- John Barrymore
For years, Eric Naughton held onto a dream of learning to play hockey. However, as Naughton continued along with his life’s work, he believed his time to learn to play the game he loved had come and gone.
|Penguins fan Eric Naughton's comback story includes participating in Penguins Fantasy Camp in February. |
Now, just months shy of his 41st birthday and following a difficult battle with Hodgkin’s disease, Naughton has a new lease on life – one that has him re-visiting that long-standing dream.
“Facing something like cancer really wakes you up to the important things in life,” said Naughton, whose inspirational story was first told by Sean Leahy of Yahoo! Sports
in July. “I have a new lease on life. The important things really become your family, friends and what you do with your time. That’s when I thought if I want to learn how to play hockey I just have to go and do it. There is no reason for me to not learn how to play hockey.”
To offer up a brief background, Naughton, 40, is a Los Angeles filmmaker who grew up a Penguins fan in Erie, Pa.
Naughton grew up a soccer player, but turned into a hockey fan beginning in 1986. That was when his father installed an aerial antenna so the family could pick up Canadian broadcasts of the FIFA World Cup. The antenna also allowed the Naughton's to receive Hockey Night in Canada telecasts.
Naughton’s love for hockey only grew when he left for college at Penn State University – where the campus was comprised of both Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers fans.
“That was always pretty nutty in the dorm lounge,” Naughton said. “I remember losing in the ’89 playoffs and just feeling crushed. That was my first year at college.”
After college, despite moving from Erie to Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles as his career advanced, Naughton continued being a die-hard Penguins fan.
In 2007, Naughton noticed a lump near his collarbone which later turned out to be Hodgkin’s disease. He underwent several months of intense chemotherapy and radiation to combat the disease, which sapped much of his energy and left him with a tough rehabilitation process.
As Naughton went about his rehabilitation he began looking for work. Thanks to his new lease on life, Naughton’s initial dream was to obtain a video job working for either a professional sports team or an all-sports network.
But that dream changed when Naughton realized his dreams went above just working for a pro hockey team.
“I quickly thought I don’t want to work in hockey – I want to play hockey – that’s what I really want to do,” Naughton said.
So Naughton combined his two dreams.
|Naughton's hockey skill have progressed to the point where he is now playing in scrimmage games. |
Naughton began skating with Christian Lalonde, who played in the Penguins’ minor-league system during the 1991 and ’92 Cups, (on the date of his 40th birthday last October) in the hopes of one day attending Penguins Fantasy Camp.
During the past 10 months, Naughton has not only trained hard two or three times a week with Lalonde to learn how to skate, he has also videotaped the entire process as part of the documentary, “Life, Cancer and the Pursuit of Hockey” he is self-producing to release in time for October of 2011’s Hockey Fights Cancer month.
“I am having a blast because it is just so fun and a lot of hard work,” Naughton said. “My ultimate goal is to get some kind of distribution and use it to raise some kind of money that I can donate to Hockey Fights Cancer and the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Showing it in theaters would be fantastic, but I’d also love to get this on NHL Network or ESPN. DVD sales would be a huge thing.
“I’d love to be able to give back to cancer research. I’m someone who has benefited from cancer research because I was fortunate that Hodgkin’s disease was one of the first cancers to be cured. The treatment has gotten easier over the years. Even 10 years ago the treatment was much harsher than it was today. Those advances are because of research. There are a lot of people out there that suffer from types of cancer that need more research. If I can give back to that – that’s my goal.”
The final chapter of Naughton’s documentary will occur when he fulfills his dream and laces up his skates at CONSOL Energy Center in February at the Penguins’ 2011 Men’s Fantasy Camp.
“My only regret is that I didn’t come to fantasy camp sooner so that I could have attended the final camp at Mellon Arena,” Naughton said. “I missed my opportunity to see just how bad the visitor’s locker room was. But it’s going to be cool to be at the first fantasy camp at the new arena. That is going to be exciting.”
While logistically it would have been easier to attend a Los Angeles Kings camp for his documentary – that was never an option for Naughton. As a life-long Penguins fan, throwing on a black-and-gold sweater was always Naughton’s true dream.
“As a fan, putting on a Kings jersey, that doesn’t interest me in the slightest,” Naughton said. “Putting on a Penguins jersey – now that’s exciting. Am I going to move away to another city and become a fan of another team? I don’t think so! I am a Penguins fan and I will always be a Penguins fan. That doesn’t change because I am living out in Los Angeles.”
What has changed over the course of the past several months is how Naughton feels both mentally and physically.
While we mentioned that Naughton’s initial recovery period was a bit taxing due to the extreme fatigue he experienced following chemotherapy and radiation, playing hockey has really helped in his rehabilitation. With another NHL season on the horizon, Naughton is beginning to feel closer to how he felt prior to discovering the cancer.
“Playing hockey has been helpful because it is so intense and is such a great workout on its own,” Naughton said. “Mentally and physically it’s really wonderful. It gets me out there and keeps me going.
“I feel great. I had a scan this summer that was clean. It looks like everything is on track so that in a couple of years when my main follow-up routine is finished, my doctors will pretty much say that it looks like the cancer is gone for good.”
Next up for Naughton is a trip back to Pennsylvania the first week in September. During that stop he plans to make his way to CONSOL Energy Center for a tour of the arena where he will skate during fantasy camp.
“That is going to be really exciting for me because I have been paying attention, watching on the website and viewing the pictures of the arena being built, the ice installation and Mario and Sid skating for the first time,” Naughton said. “I also enjoyed reading about what the season ticket holders had to say so I am excited to see it.”
Just as excited as we will all be to one day soon watch Naughton’s completed documentary and support the worthy causes that will benefit from his work.
To read more information about Naughton's documentary, "Life, Cancer and the Pursuit of Hockey" click here
to view Naughton's Facebook page.