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Hockey Fights Cancer

Red Wings make fan's wish come true

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit host teen who has leukemia at Centennial Classic

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- Jager Perreault, an 18-year-old Detroit Red Wings fan, stood in the media workroom inside Exhibition Stadium with his mother and father late Friday morning, unaware of what was about to happen.

"I have no idea," Perreault said. "I like it. It keeps you interested and excited."

Perreault, from Mattawa, Ontario, was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 10, 2015. He is here for the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports, NHL.TV) because Make-A-Wish Canada teamed with the NHL and the Red Wings to fulfill Perreault's wish of attending the game and meeting Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg.

That and more happened Friday.

Perreault, along with his parents, Celine and Alain, were escorted into the Red Wings dressing room, where they found every player sitting in front of his locker stall.

"He's not normally speechless," Celine said.

But Perreault was as Detroit coach Jeff Blashill introduced him to the team and to Zetterberg, who gave him an autographed jersey.

"I don't know if there are words to describe that," Perreault said upon leaving the room to head toward the outdoor rink, where he'd watch practice.

Perreault never looked away from the ice except to glance down at his phone to set up his camera for another picture. Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist each handed him a puck through a hole in the glass reserved for photographers.

"Playing this game, you do what you love and then you get that part too, meeting fantastic people who are going through rough times," Zetterberg said. "Just to have a chance to brighten up their day and their life for a little bit means a lot and it's very special."

Perreault said he's been a Red Wings fan all his life, going against his father, who is a die-hard Maple Leafs fan. Perreault was 10 when the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2008.

"I have a lot of friends who are Pittsburgh [Penguins] fans and they played Pittsburgh two years in a row for the Stanley Cup, and we won first so it was nice to rub it in their faces," Perreault said.

He grew up playing hockey in Mattawa, a town of approximately 2,000 located about 45 minutes east of North Bay, Ontario. But he had to stop playing after his diagnosis, and the next year of his life was filled with pain.

Perreault moved to Toronto to be treated at SickKids children's hospital. His parents, who have four older children, moved into the Ronald McDonald House, a short walk from SickKids. They would return to Mattawa only when doctors allowed Jager to leave for a few days.

Four rounds of chemotherapy per week left him weak, 40 pounds lighter, vomiting, constipated and in terrible pain, but he found solace in watching hockey and baseball on television. He was able to attend a Red Wings-Maple Leafs preseason game at Air Canada Centre shortly after he was diagnosed, but that was before chemotherapy treatments and pain set in.

On one of his trips home he had to spend a week in the hospital in nearby Sudbury, Ontario because he developed a life-threatening infection from a hangnail. His sister Stephanie, 25, had a stroke at the same time he was in the hospital in Sudbury.

Celine heard of the Make-A-Wish Foundation through a friend and applied on her son's behalf when he was 17. Make-A-Wish grants wishes to applicants between ages 3 and 17 with life threatening illnesses.

"They tell us what they want to do and we make it happen," said Karen Kwapien, the Make-A-Wish representative who worked on Perreault's case out of the Toronto office.

Perreault is doing better now. His chemo treatments have been reduced to once a month and he gets a spinal tap every three months. His doctors have told him he will be allowed to end his chemo treatments Dec. 11, 2018.

"Everything looks good up to now," Alain, his father, said.

In the meantime Perreault is working at Tim Hortons and finishing 12th grade so he can attend a university in Sudbury, where his focus will be nursing with a specialty in medical oncology. He wants to become a doctor.

"I want to work with kids to relate my story to them and parents, but I also want to work with adults because I always hear them say, 'I wish my doctor understood what I felt,' which is true," Perreault said. "I always wanted to do this, but [being diagnosed] just kind of sealed the deal."

None of that was on his mind Friday. All he cared about was meeting Zetterberg, shaking his hand and chatting with him, at least when he wasn't speechless.

The NHL, Red Wings and Make-A-Wish have more surprises in store for Perreault on Saturday and Sunday. It'll be hard to top what already happened.

"That was amazing," he said.

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