I started playing hockey as soon as I could hold a stick. It all began in Toronto, Canada. Hockey was what we did. I played road hockey and ice hockey, I watched hockey and I talked hockey. New equipment became cherished valuables and often made it into bed with me at night just so I knew it was safe.
When I think back to my childhood filled with hockey memories, what I remember most is the fun, hard work, and most importantly the support from my family. My parents gave me every opportunity to succeed. The early morning practice sessions, road trip tournaments and spring hockey… they were my biggest fans.
I left home at seventeen to play junior hockey. After three seasons I landed a hockey scholarship to the University of New Hampshire (UNH). Following my sophomore year, I signed a professional contract with the New York Islanders, and made the decision to leave school to live my dream as a professional hockey player.
On December 29th, 2008, I received an unforgettable phone call from the NY Islanders management telling me to report to Long Island the following night, as I would be playing in my 1st NHL game! It’s hard to put into the words the emotions I felt from the moment I received the phone call, to sharing the news with my Dad, to the memorable minutes I spent lacing up my skates, to the fulfillment and sense of accomplishment after the game. I did it! I made it!
Behind the scenes, there was a lot more going on than most people knew about. Throughout my entire professional hockey career I’ve been battling with ulcerative colitis. Symptoms started during my sophomore year at UNH and I was diagnosed with UC the following season… my first year pro. Knowing what I now know about IBD it is very clear to me that I had been living with ulcerative colitis since my early teens. However I didn't realize that the symptoms I had been experiencing were related to a disease.
Despite my struggles with ulcerative colitis, I managed to reach big personal milestones in my hockey career. The week following my 1st NHL game I scored my first NHL goal in Calgary… that puck is framed at my home and is a constant reminder of the game I’d never forget. In addition to that game are several other big moments I’ll never forget, including winning the Calder Cup in 2012 with the Norfolk Admirals, playing my 100th NHL game in 2015, and this past hockey season hitting my 500 AHL game mark.
Off the ice, it was a rollercoaster of trial and error with several different medications to keep the flare ups under control. Different pills and drugs were struggling to work. During the periods of time when medications were working successfully, specifically at the start of 2014 while playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I played the best two years of hockey that I’ve ever played. However, that successful relationship with medication has not continued and I am now back to the drawing board (and the struggle) to find balance between feeling good as an athlete and not skating to the restroom after every shift.
In the off season, I remember leaving Mass General after sitting with other patients receiving infusions, feeling inspired and eager to talk to more people who suffer from IBD. The sense of camaraderie and support I gained by sharing stories is one of many reasons why I want to get involved in this community.
My story isn’t complete without mentioning my team outside of hockey. My beautiful wife Meghan, and our two daughters Isla and Presley. I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today without the love and support from my wife on our journey through life and hockey.