NEWARK, N.J. -- Jack Hughes is grateful that 10-year-old Grace Eline had the courage to share her story of inspiration just in time for Hockey Fights Cancer night at Prudential Center on Saturday.
"It's kind of a reminder that there are bigger problems in the world than what we're going through," said Hughes, the 18-year-old center for the New Jersey Devils (7-10-4). "You can have tunnel vision just thinking about hockey non-stop and not realize there are bigger problems in the world, so for her to join us and to learn about what she's overcome is pretty inspirational and it makes you see the big picture a little bit more."
Eline of Long Hill, New Jersey, who was signed to a one-day contract with the Devils prior to their game against the Detroit Red Wings, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in April 2018. She's been cancer-free since December 2018.
"I think I'm an even bigger Devils fan now," she said. "I've skated a few times before and watched a few hockey games, but this was special. I hope I was able to motivate the team."
Eline not only received a custom HFC jersey and joined coach John Hynes for pregame media availability but read the Devils' starting lineup and participated in the ceremonial puck drop with her family.
"Grace has inspired all who have met her on this journey, both children and adults," said her mother, Aubrey Eline. "I think she started inspiring before she had cancer through choosing to receive donations for cancer kids in lieu of gifts. This speaks to who she is as a person. She could have chosen the sad route, but she decided she was going to make the best out of it."
A mass discovered on Eline's pituitary gland April 9, 2018, was diagnosed as a germ cell brain tumor. She began four cycles of chemotherapy at Valerie Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center on May 7, 2018 and had to stop softball, field hockey and gymnastics. She missed the last few months of third grade but kept up with her schoolwork and classmates via the VGo App. Her favorite subjects are math and social studies.
Grace finished chemotherapy in July 2018 before beginning the first of 24 rounds of proton-beam radiation at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in August. She's in fifth grade at Millington Elementary School in Long Hill.
"Helping others helps her and I am so inspired by her caring, love and maturity to choose that," Aubrey Eline said. "Her classmates have jumped right in to help her with the cause either through fundraising or gathering supplies for less fortunate cancer families."
On Monday, Grace was fitted with her own hockey equipment and joined the Devils for practice.
"I really enjoyed skating on the ice, passing with the team and talking to Jack Hughes," Grace said. "It was so fun to be out there. I asked them tips about playing the game and skating. They showed me how to shoot, how to pass and hit the puck."
Said Hughes: "It was nice to take a few minutes on the ice with her. To take some time and make her day a little better by doing that was great. It's obviously a thing where I felt I could make her smile, so we skated around with her a little bit and talked with her."