Amaze. Inspire. Surprise. You’ll be hearing those words a lot in the coming weeks—together, they cut to the heart of why we love sports in the first place. So in the days leading up to the naming of SI’s Sportsperson we’ll be looking back and shining a light on the athletes, moments and teams (and one horse) who did one—or all—of those things in 2018. There can be only one Sportsperson. But it has been a year full of deserving candidates.

Image placeholder title

On March 24, senior forward Matthew Horowitz stood outside the Minnesota State Capitol, reading speech notes from his cell phone and speaking into a microphone. It was a cold weekend afternoon, flags flapping in a swift breeze, some 18,000 protestors bundled on the mall grounds below.

Pinned to his Marjory Stoneman Douglas club ice hockey jacket was an orange ribbon honoring Jamie Guttenberg, sister of teammate Jesse Guttenberg, while the green lettering on his baseball cap—EXTRA GUAC—paid tribute to friend Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, both of whom were killed in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at their Parkland, Fla., high school.

“Those 17 people will never walk this Earth again,” the 18-year-old Horowitz told the crowd. “I will never see my friends again. We now speak for those 17 angels and we need to make a difference in this world. This is our country. We are the future. And no one is stopping us now.”

Today, Horowitz looks back on that Saturday through two distinct lenses. First there was the Minnesota March for Our Lives, one of more than 760 nationwide rallies marshaled by MSD survivors, at which Horowitz and other Parkland classmates and parents helped lead a two-mile demonstration walk across the Mississippi River before baring their souls on the capitol steps. “Definitely difficult,” he says. “But we knew what we were doing was the right thing.”

And then, that night, as it often had over the previous month and a half, hockey offered a balm.

When a wraparound goal from forward Ronnie Froetschel Jr., clinched a 3-2 overtime thriller over Lake Central (Ind.), the Eagles swarmed together against the penalty box at nearby Plymouth Ice Center, celebrating their first and only win out of three games at the 2018 High School National Championships. “It was nice to have that, after everything that day,” says Horowitz, who scored both regulation goals. “We were able to let out our emotions.”

Even if it hadn’t been hockey season when the tragedy occurred, Horowitz figures he still would’ve sought relief through skating, such is his love for the sport. As it was, he says, the whole team learned to cope together. Despite beginning the state tournament with three straight losses—their first three games since Valentines Day—the Eagles rebounded with convincing 3-1 and 7-4 victories to capture the title. Upon returning home, each of the 17 players draped his medal around one of the 17 memorials along the fencing outside Stoneman Douglas.

Throughout their run, support poured from the wider hockey world. Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who grew up in Parkland and briefly attended Stoneman Douglas, and Senators goalie Craig Anderson, a longtime offseason resident, both donated suites when their respective teams visited Florida’s BB&T Center. The Panthers, meanwhile, delivered one modest surprise by bringing the Stanley Cup to a Stoneman Douglas practice, then uncorked a whopper by lending their private jet to whisk the high schoolers away to nationals.

From the SI Vault: Alabama Athletes Help Heal Community After Deadly Tornado

Out in Plymouth, Minn., the Eagles received a massive signed banner from their first opponent (Regis Jesuit of Colorado), jerseys from their second (Minnesota’s Edina), and a locker room visit from Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, whose son Leevi was playing for the eventual tournament champs. (As Floridian teenagers they also made time for sampling unfamiliar local activities, like riding the roller coasters at Mall of America, or playing in the snow.) And three months later, four players—including Jesse Guttenberg and captain Matthew Hauptman—helped present the Calder Trophy while being recognized at the NHL awards in Las Vegas.

Inspiration deserves to be taken from these goals, these wins, these gestures. But we are only here because another horrible act of violence occurred at another school, another community pillar, another space where everyone deserves to total safety. Las Vegas ... Santa Fe … Pittsburgh … as Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo recently said, not long after 13 bar patrons were shot and killed in Thousand Oaks, Calif., “It just doesn’t make sense to me that something like this keeps happening and nothing is done about it. You’re kind of speechless, right?”

If inspiration should come from anywhere, says Luongo, a year-round Parkland resident, it’s the actions of those he collectively—and affectionately—calls “the kids.” That means MSD students like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, who delivered addresses at the main March for Our Lives on the National Mall and led a 60-day summer bus tour to engender voter registration. Or then-senior forward Joey Zenobi, who spoke alongside Horowitz in St. Paul. “Rest in peace, Guac, I love you homie,” he said at the end, raising his fist and breaking into tears.

Horowitz is a freshman at Florida State now. He plans to major in psychology, having always enjoyed television thrillers such as Blacklist and Criminal Minds. He hasn’t joined the club ice hockey team yet, but perhaps next year. Some moments are tougher than others, like when birthdays pass, or when friends get together, or when news of another mass shooting comes across his Twitter feed. Other, more specific memories from the hockey team’s magical run have disappeared altogether, buried by grief and shock. But his hope hasn’t faded since March 24. That message remains unchanged. “All in all, soon enough, kids our age are going to be running the country,” Horowitz says. “Hopefully we’re all learning our lessons now.”