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Hockey Fights Cancer

How Wild, Kings' Quick teamed up for cancer patient

Provided Jaela O'Brien with important psychological boost during battle with disease

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- The resemblance is uncanny.

It's there in the side-by-side photos of the two goaltenders, each stretched wide to the left to make a glove save, relying on their extraordinary athleticism. On the right is Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, on the left is Jaela O'Brien, goalie for Blaine (Minn.) High School. 

The caption underneath reads: Can You Say Twins?

This is near the bottom of O'Brien's website, Jaela's Ultimate Cancer Shutout. Above that, there are many statistics, but they are not her win-loss total, goals-against average or save percentage. These numbers tell a much different story.

- 826 doses of chemotherapy.
- 34 days/nights in the hospital, and five emergency room visits.
- 48 spinal taps.

O'Brien and her mother will tell you that's not the complete story.

O'Brien, 17, is cancer-free, her checkups are every three months rather than every other month. She is eagerly preparing for her senior hockey season at Blaine and will attend Hamline University in St. Paul next year.

She was co-captain and played No. 1 doubles for the Blaine tennis team this fall. This winter, her hockey team has unfinished business after losing to Edina in the final of the Class 2A state tournament last season. O'Brien went 15-3-2 with a 1.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

It's a long way from May 2013 when O'Brien, then 13, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be about 5,970 new cases in the United States in 2017. It occurs in adults and children; medical literature states that the prognosis is more optimistic for children than adults.

The sport of hockey, including the NHL, provided an important outlet and psychological boost for O'Brien during months and months of debilitating treatments.

There were several meetings and photos with Zach Parise and his teammates from the hometown Minnesota Wild.

O'Brien had a special meeting with Quick, her favorite player on the Kings and fellow goalie.

Her aunt, Elizabeth Parker, got in touch with Jennifer Pope, the Kings' vice president of community relations, a couple of months after O'Brien's diagnosis and relayed the teenager's admiration for Quick.

That summer, Quick made a video for O'Brien, offering his support for her cancer battle. O'Brien's mother, Katie Meister, said Quick urged O'Brien to keep fighting. Meister wrote back to the Kings thanking them, saying: "On days like this, it makes a smile appear."

There were more smiles when the Kings came to St. Paul to play the Wild in October 2013. The night before the game, O'Brien and her family were out to dinner and ran into Kings players Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Trevor Lewis. They ordered her a massive ice cream sundae.

She went to the game the next night and met Quick, getting a few pictures.

"It was really exciting," O'Brien said. "It made me happy and made me want to keep going.

"He's still my favorite player. He's athletic and he reminds me a lot of myself. He always makes crazy saves. He seems like a good person too."

Quick recently talked about meeting O'Brien four years ago. "It's awesome," said Quick, smiling, when updated of her progress.

He looked around at the dressing room at the Kings' practice facility in El Segundo and noted the obvious and somber fact, of the widespread impact of cancer on society.

"You talk to guys in the room in this room, all over, somebody is affected by it and everybody knows somebody," Quick said. "It means a lot to know you have that type of effect. To maybe give them a moment, a moment to forget about everything and enjoy being where they are, whether it's being a hockey fan or a football fan."

Quick is the father of two, a daughter, Madison, 7, and son Carter, 4. O'Brien's situation resonated with him when they met in 2013.

"It hits a little harder when you see somebody younger going through that," Quick said.

O'Brien was off the ice about three months after she was diagnosed. Her mother, Meister, recognized the mental implications of getting Jaela playing hockey again and overcame numerous hurdles to get her cleared.

"She had blood clots and they didn't want her to play," Meister said. "Unfortunately, it was impacting her mental state because she went from hockey is my life, seven days a week, to zero hockey.

"As soon as she got back on the ice, it was like night and day. She was expecting to get right back on the ice and pick up where she left off. It was a very quick realization it was going to take time."

Meister urged patience.

"She was upset that first session." Meister said. "I said, 'Hey, you made it 12 minutes today. Maybe on Thursday it can be 15 minutes and maybe next week we can get 20 minutes.' Everything is about doing the best you can at that moment. Within a couple of months, she was the starting goalie back for her team."

The Wild haven't forgotten O'Brien. Nor has Quick, who wants to meet her again this season when the Kings play at Minnesota on March 19.

Every year, the Wild hold a gala fundraiser, Wild About Children, and Meister said that Jaela spoke at the 2016 gathering in St. Paul. Wild About Children has raised more than $1.4 million in 13 years, benefiting Children's Minnesota.

On Nov. 14, as part of Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Month in the NHL, the Wild will hold their Hockey Fights Cancer night.

There are many messages of hope and inspiration O'Brien and her mother want to convey. Another message they want to get out is the continued need for blood donation. They've hosted blood drives and O'Brien believes the fact that so many others have given blood helped save her life.

"It's really important," she said. "I probably wouldn't be here. It's really easy to do.

"I find it's a way to help give back. All you have to really do is go sit in a chair and give blood and it could really literally save someone's life."

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