It takes a lot of heart to play in the NHL and the San Jose Sharks know that more than anyone. Since the team’s birth back in 1991 the professional ice hockey club has given fans some great memories. The SAP Center has been the venue where many of those memories have been made.
Big goals, great goaltending, last minute comebacks and incredible individual accomplishments have been many. But this past Tuesday we may have been given the finest, most important memory of all.
18 year-old Sam Tageson was born with a heart condition that has affected his family every day of his life. Sam may need a heart transplant sometime in the near future, but in the meantime, Sam treats every day like the gift it is. Helping him along the way has been his love for the game of hockey and most specifically the San Jose Sharks. Despite doctor’s advice, Sam loves to play roller hockey. He’s a goalie and his role is to protect the net. It’s the game that gives him joy. It gives his life structure.
As is the case with many children who have medical challenges, the future is uncertain. Along the way, Sam’s family came in contact with the Make a Wish Foundation of the Bay Area. Sam’s wish was to skate with San Jose’s NHL team. I’m sure his family tried to let Sam know that was a lot to ask for. Parents are there to protect their sons and daughters from harm and from hurt. But like a wonderful glorious daydream…the Sharks Foundation entered his life. Sam would be granted his wildest dream.
On Tuesday Sam signed a one-day contract with the Sharks. Terms were not disclosed. The team bought him a nice suit, gave him a customized home jersey and let him get on the ice with his heroes towards the end of the morning skate. The players treated him as they would any new teammate. They gave him some good natured teasing and tips on how to improve his game. The Sharks spent time and smiles on their new friend.
In the afternoon Sam was let loose in the Sharks Store to pick up some new team gear.
Sam’s pregame meal was Chicken Parm in the Sharks Press Room. The young goalie and his family were joined at their meal by radio man Dan Rusanowsky. They also visited with other broadcasters Randy Hahn, Drew Remenda, Brodie Brazil and Bret Hedican. But the best was yet to come. Sam spent time in the Sharks dressing room prior to the game. He watched the warm-ups from the Sharks’ bench where almost every player acknowledged him a tap, fist bump or small joke. Jason Demers, as he does most every night, sprayed those on the bench with his water bottle.
He got to see firsthand how his heroes prepare for a game. With the warm up finished, the clock ticked down. The team shared their final moments before their trademark entrance via the “Shark Head”. The starting goalie Anti Niemi is first, followed by the Captain Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is always last. But this night was different. Sam would be the last Shark to hit the ice. It was the first time ever that a non-player has skated through the “Shark Head”.
Sam joined the San Jose starters on the blueline as their names and pictures were announced on the in-house JumboTron. Following the anthem, Sam headed to the bench and was once again acknowledged, this time by the fans. Many gave him a standing ovation. Both teams, the Sharks and the Florida Panthers applauded or banged their sticks on the ice or the boards. Sam waved to the crowd as a flood of emotion came to Sam. He sobbed with joy and an understanding that his wish had been granted. It was a wish that he was able to share with his 17,500 best friends, the Sharks’ fans.
The kindness of the players was truly remarkable. I knew they are grounded, loyal and caring people but their performance on Tuesday may be their finest moment. The Sharks Foundation, Sharks’ staff, coaches, GM Doug Wilson and even Sharkie did everything possible to make this a memory for Sam and his family. At the same time all involved crafted a lasting memory for hockey fans everywhere.
We all know that sports are nothing more than a diversion for people, a way to forget their daily troubles and spend time with friends and family. But Tuesday Sharks hockey was more than that. Tuesday made sports important.
Click here and I dare you not to feel emotion for this brave young man.