‘Inspirational’ MacLeod fights brain cancer on professional hockey comeback

“You look at him and you would just think he was a professional hockey player,” said recent Canucks rep Brad Hunt. “If you heard her story afterwards, you should say, ‘Are you kidding me? ”

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Watching Wade MacLeod run around the ice during his morning workouts, you would have no idea that he had four brain surgeries and beat cancer.

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Watching him with Vancouver Canucks free agent Brad Hunt being put to the test by longtime coach Kai Heinonen while timing their efforts in every drill, you would never think MacLeod hadn’t played any. meaningful match type in three seasons.

You certainly would never have imagined that there was a time when MacLeod was told he had three to five years to live.

MacLeod, 34, has been on the rinks at Planet Ice Coquitlam several times a week all summer, preparing to return to professional hockey. Given the state of health of his medics, the left winger has signed a deal with Manchester Storm, a team in the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL). They are scheduled to open their season on September 26.

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He scored 25 goals and 49 points in 49 games for Lowen Frankfurt, a German second division team, when he last played in 2017-18.

“He lives everyday,” said Hunt, 33, a Maple Ridge defenseman who signed with the Canucks this summer after playing part of the past eight seasons in the NHL with five different clubs. “What he went through, he beat him, and for him, it wasn’t a question of whether he was going to do it or not. It was “We’re just going to keep moving forward”, and that’s what he did.

“You come here and you look at him and you would just think he was a professional hockey player. If you heard his story afterwards, you’d be like, “Are you kidding me?”

“It’s an inspiration. We play a game and sometimes you take it for granted. When someone close to you has to go through something like this, it opens your eyes and reminds you that you are in a special place so that you can do what you love.

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MacLeod and Hunt once “got to grips” by dropping the gloves and fighting in their 2005-06 junior rookie seasons, when MacLeod was with the Port Coquitlam Buckeroos and Hunt with the Ridge Meadows Flames of the Pacific Junior B League. They laugh about it now, of course.

MacLeod, a Coquitlam native, joined the Merritt Centennials of the BC Junior A Hockey League, where he was fourth in league scoring in 2006-07 after amassing 105 points, including 51 goals. This earned him a scholarship to Northeastern University and four solid seasons there – 61 goals, 137 points in 149 games – saw him sign a deal with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League. .

In his second full season with Springfield in 2012-13, MacLeod took a heavy body check along the board in one game. He had a seizure. Doctors found the tumor in his brain and he underwent surgery to remove it.

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He underwent intensive therapy, including relearning to speak. He was fit and ready to replay for the start of the 2013-14 season and landed another AHL contract, this time with the Toronto Marlies.

The seizures continued. The tumors came back. There would be three more surgeries in the following years. There would be cancer treatments. There were tough and heavy discussions with the doctors, including this one about only having three to five years to live.

“I was in denial at first,” admitted Heinonen, who has coached MacLeod off season since his college days. “After brain surgery, we started training again. After another brain operation, we started training again. It hit home when they talked about life expectancy.

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Wade MacLeod, pictured this week at Planet Ice Coquitlam, performed on an NCAA scholarship at Northeastern University after finishing fourth in BCHL scoring with the Merritt Centennials in 2006-07.
Wade MacLeod, pictured this week at Planet Ice Coquitlam, performed on an NCAA scholarship to Northeastern University after finishing fourth in BCHL scoring with the Merritt Centennials in 2006-07. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

MacLeod continued to fight. He is quick to credit his wife Karly, quick to say how much she’s driven. They have two daughters: Ava, 3, and Georgia, 6 months.

Along the way, there has been more physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. He changed his diet. He had hyperthermia treatments. This was all helped by money raised through a GoFundMe effort.

He turned to Stephen Raghoobarsingh, a licensed clinical counselor who works with athletes. There were times when MacLeod didn’t have the strength to get out of bed and he focused on the goals he scored in the famous Brick tournament at age 10, or the games he had. with Merritt or at Northeastern. He worked to keep that positive frame of mind.

He has said all along that he wants to go back to hockey. He had doctors who wondered if it was possible.

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“I went with them for the rest of this date and didn’t see them again after that,” MacLeod said. “I now have a great team of doctors and we are all on the same page. They told me if you can do that you can do anything, and if you want to try professional hockey again, so be it. “

Through it all, MacLeod launched Headway Hockey, a hockey camp that promises to help participants “take that next leap to the next level of hockey.” It now includes online courses.

Playing for Manchester is his professional priority right now. General manager and coach Ryan Finnerty, 40, is a Lethbridge native who played in the BCHL, so he should have a good knowledge of MacLeod.

MacLeod said his workout times for Heinonen are continually improving and he’s never felt better.

“I don’t want cancer to be the reason I retire,” he said. “If I go back and don’t have what I once had, that’s fine. But I feel like I’m fit and ready to go and my skills are there.

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  1. Rick Rypien passed away on August 15, 2011 after a long battle with depression.

    A decade after the loss of Rick Rypien, the Canucks’ mental health work continues

  2. Former Vancouver Giants forward Craig Cunningham at Planet Ice Delta on August 17, 2021.

    Former Vancouver giant Craig Cunningham wholeheartedly to highlight health campaign

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