It all started in the summer of 2018 when Owen Brady noticed a little bump on the upper part of his left shin. It wasn’t causing him any pain, so he ignored it. After all, he had more important things to worry about, foremost among them preparing for his final season of midget hockey and showcasing himself for the OHL draft. And, hey, 15-year-old kids are invincible, right?
On Nov. 21, one year will have passed since Owen and his father, Chris, decided to go to a walk-in clinic to have that bump checked out. The next day, Owen was supposed to be on the ice, with the ‘C’ on his chest, for the Whitby Wildcats AAA major midget team in the prestigious Silver Stick Tournament. Instead, he was at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto being told by doctors that he would never play hockey again because of the invasive surgery that would be required to remove the cancerous tumor that was growing just below his knee.
It was osteosarcoma, the same cancer that Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox had in 1977. The next week, Owen was supposed to be playing in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s midget AAA Showcase. He was such a promising prospect that the association even used his picture in its promotional material for the event. Months later, the world-renowned Hospital for Sick Children would use Owen as one of the faces of its fundraising campaign. When he was supposed to be anchoring the defense corps of Team Ontario at the Canada Summer Games, he was undergoing his first chemotherapy treatment.
You might have noticed that November is Hockey Fights Cancer month in the NHL. Since 1998, the joint effort between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association has raised more than $25 million in funds. But beyond the moustaches and the lavender tape and the Hockey Fights Cancer nights that each team in the league hosts, the
charitable initiative raises awareness and unites the hockey community around a common cause.
If you’re around this game long enough, you find out that the hockey world might seem very large, but it is in fact very small. And bound tightly. So when one of them, like a teenager whose world has been turned upside down, is affected by cancer, everyone gets involved. This past summer, the St. Louis Blues’ Vince Dunn brought the Stanley Cup to the hospital and invited Owen as a guest of honor. He and his family have been guests of Toronto’s Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews at NHL games. Bobby Orr has reached out.
And that matters. It makes a difference. The fact is Owen faced long odds in his dream of making the NHL before the cancer diagnosis, because every kid that age does. Even though he almost certainly will not play a minute of competitive hockey this season, those dreams have not been dashed. But the new normal in his life has put them on hold, and into perspective.
Prior to the diagnosis, Owen was projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round of the 2019 OHL draft. “He has all the things that scouts drool over,” said OHL Central Scouting director Darrell Woodley. He ended up being taken in the sixth round by the Oshawa Generals, who are hoping they have a first-round talent on their hands when Owen is ready to play next season.
But the road to recovery has been anything but smooth. The initial surgery was supposed to last 12 hours, but took 19. The fibula is gone from Owen’s right leg, grafted and put in place to replace the
tibia that was removed from his left leg. That was followed by six 35-day chemotherapy cycles that ended in August. From using a wheelchair to crutches to a cane, Owen is walking on his own, going to the gym twice a week, doing rehab and seeing a sports psychologist.
He’s also helping to coach a local minor atom team and spending an hour a week on the ice working on his own skill development. The Generals, meanwhile, are sitting in first place in the OHL. Owen took part in the off-ice activities during rookie camp and goes to every home game. There he watches a team that he might have been a part of had he not gotten sick, watching players with whom he played youth hockey chase their dreams while he has to wait.
“For all of us, it’s been a lot of heartbreak, disappointment and shock,” said Chris Brady. “We’re still in shock that this happened. But we’re also very grateful that Owen is going to be fine. And there’s hope. There’s a lot of hope.”
Had Owen been diagnosed with osteosarcoma 30 years ago, amputation would have been the only option. Faced with a world of uncertainty, he doesn’t know where the future will lead him and how big a part hockey will play in that future. He knows he will be back on the ice playing at some point. It’s a big part of what keeps him pushing forward.
“I took a video of him skating recently, and I keep watching it over and over again,” Chris said. “And I said, ‘If he looks this good now, think of how he’ll be in six months.’ He’s all-in and he won’t stop until he can get back to where he was.”