Lifelong Penguins fan Patrick McIlvain was elated when his team won the Stanley Cup in 2009. But one year later tragedy struck the soldier while he was serving his country in Afghanistan.
McIlvain nearly lost his life when he was struck in the head by a bullet during a battle in the city of Kherwar. Thanks to the quick response of his fellow soldiers, McIlvain survived and was sent to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD where his condition slowly improved.
McIlvain grew up a huge hockey fan and he played for California University of Pennsylvania. He idolized the Penguins his entire life, but this week, the Penguins were the ones honoring him.
McIlvain and his friends and family were invited to the Penguins Friday morning skate at CONSOL Energy Center, and was able to meet the team in the locker room. What’s more, the Penguins coaches and players are wearing wristbands this week in honor of McIlvain and the Pat Mac Fund, which McIlvain’s family started in his honor to help soldiers in a similar situation.
“The Penguins have been so gracious recognizing Pat,” said Ryan Fiano, McIlvain’s lifelong friend. “We grew up respecting these guys and now they’re showing respect for him for what he’s done for his country.”
Fiano sent a letter to FSN’s Dan Potash in late October explaining McIlvain’s situation. Potash passed the message along to head coach Dan Bylsma, and Bylsma immediately said that the team would honor the wounded warrior.
“I just thought that was important to pass that along to the Penguins just so they can recognize all the things he’s done for our country,” Fiano said. “I think it was important to show everyone the sacrifice that he made that he really didn’t have to make.”
McIlvain’s friends and family were surprised when he chose to enlist in the army. But Fiano said that McIlvain loved being part of a team.
“I think it was more or less about the camaraderie that comes along with being a part of the army,” Fiano said. “It was something he got from hockey that was really important to him.”
John McIlvain, Pat’s uncle, said that Pat’s family was proud of his decision.
“I guess Pat was still searching for something, but there was just something missing,” John said. “I think he was looking for something to be a challenge and be a part of something that’s bigger than himself. I was very proud of him for what he did.”
Due to Pat’s condition, he is unable to speak or move very much, but he did seem responsive while watching the Penguins morning skate.
“We keep asking him if he’s aware and excited about where he is,” John said. “He’s giving us some head nods and positives.”
“I think this means a lot,” Fiano said. “We’re going to get everything on tape so it’s something that he has for a long time. I think he’s really happy to be here.”
To top things off for Pat, the Penguins invited him into the locker room after practice to meet the players. He built up the strength to shake players’ hands and even give a thumbs-up for a picture with Sidney Crosby
and Maxime Talbot.
“I think it’s kind of come full circle for Pat,” Fiano said. “Growing up, we always looked up to the Penguins like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.”
The Penguins also met with 12 veterans from the Wounded Warriors Project on Wednesday, and Craig Adams
felt “humbled” by both experiences. The fact that the soldiers look up to the Penguins is not lost on Adams.
“I think they got it the wrong way around,” Adams said.
He believes that soldiers deserve more respect than anyone.
“We look up to these guys, and you realize that our ups-and-downs in here from day-to-day are pretty trivial compared to what these men and women are going through,” Adams said. “It’s an eye-opener for sure.”
When Fiano wrote the letter to Potash, he only asked if the team could wear wristbands in his honor.
“It would mean the world to Pat if he knew that some of the players wore one of his wristbands,” Fiano wrote.
But thanks to Bylsma, Potash and vice president of communications Tom McMillan, McIlvain got to live out one of his dreams. It was only appropriate since the sacrifices that such soldiers make allow the Penguins to live out their own dreams.