As Columbus Blue Jackets’ fans wait … and wait … and wait for a resolution to the Rick Nash trade saga, there are a couple other Blue Jackets players who fans can focus on momentarily.
Oh, and one non-NHL’er whose story of an ECHL tryout after a double-lung transplant resonates loudly with any hockey fan and player.
Blue Jackets wingers and agitators Jared Boll and Derek Dorsett, both re-signed by the club earlier this summer, signed autographs at the second annual Make CF History weekend hockey tournament in June to help tournament organizer Chad Eddy raise nearly $19,000 for the Central Ohio chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
The Blue Jackets’ mascot, Stinger, also made an appearance during the weekend’s kids skate. Eddy said the player and mascot involvement is just another way he appreciates how the Blue Jackets support the Central Ohio community.
“Having Jared and Derek support the event is a really big deal for us. Saturday of the event weekend is really geared toward the general public and raising awareness to as many people as we can reach. Jared and Derek are the big draw and they clearly have a strong following in Columbus, so it’s a perfect match,” said Eddy. “Also, Jared has a connection with a family in Michigan who has a family member with CF. The family has come down for the event both years to show their support and spend time with Jared. Their son also plays in the event and is good friends with Jared.”
Dorsett, who had 12 goals and eight assists last season, signed a three-year contract with the club. The 25-year-old had 235 penalty minutes in 77 games in 2011-12 and has been in the top three for penalty minutes in the NHL for the last three seasons. Boll, 26, was signed to a two-year contract. The agitator, injured last season, had two goals, one assist and 126 penalty minutes in 54 games in 2011-12.
But the hockey player who had the most impact on this year’s 10-team tourney was Canadian Trevor Umlah, who played goalie at the Easton Chiller weekend tourney.
“He’s just inspiring,” said Eddy. “You get to (your 40s) and you complain about aches and pains and here comes Trevor going through what he has gone through and seeing his attitude — it’s just totally inspiring. Perspective is what it gives for us.”
The 43-year-old Umlah was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth and lived a relatively healthy and normal childhood with no symptoms of CF and no lung issues during his years of playing hockey, baseball and football. But once he hit his early 30s, his lungs started to fail him.
“Over the course of three years or four years is when my lung function started to decline,” said Umlah, who was told in February of 2007 that he would need a double-lung transplant. “I was at 18 percent (lung function) when I had my transplant.”
The married father of one daughter traveled to Toronto because surgeons didn’t offer lung transplants in Nova Scotia. He was off the ventilator in 18 hours and on his feet within 24 hours after his surgery. He hit the ice in full hockey gear six months later after battling post-surgery setbacks of a collapsed lung and contracting a virus.
“I was very lucky,” he said, adding he was never told who his donor was. “I do know that this person was relatively the same size as me. I don’t know age or sex or how the trauma came about. I do know that the same person donated at least one kidney to somebody on my ward.”
Life took on a new meaning for Umlah after his transplant. Doctors told him only 80 percent even survive a surgery like his, 70 percent survive the first year and 50 percent are still alive after five years. He could live up to 15 years. Being given a timetable for life inspired Umlah to try out for hockey on a pro level.
“I left some things on the table in my 20s,” said Umlah. “I certainly had the skills and was playing at that level, but I got to University and just concentrated on University.”
The regret of not pursuing hockey harder lingered for Umlah. So when his friend, Malcolm Cameron, who coached the ECHL Elmira Jackals squad, mentioned a free agent camp at the beginning of the season last year, Umlah jumped at the chance.
“They supported organ donation. He recommended that I come to try out,” said Umlah, who took the chance. “There were about 60 kids there and I say kids because they were kids. Most were between 19 and 23.”
Umlah said there was a lot of speed, a lot of size and a lot of skill on the ice for the three-day camp that had intense practices.
“I held up pretty well; I was pretty impressed with myself,” said Umlah, adding that he didn’t get invited to the main camp following his try-out. “I had no expectations to make the team. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could stand in there and pick up where I left off. I was really doing it for organ donation and to demonstrate the quality of life you could have after someone gives you an organ.”
Umlah, a contract manager for a regional airline in Halifax, held up well at this year’s tournament, too, giving it his all in the net over three days of competition. His energy and attitude were inspiring to all in attendance.
“My message really is to rise to any challenge that you have. Relationship challenges or work challenges or athletic challenges — you think that challenge has got you licked but just stand up and face it and you’d be surprised. You’d be surprised what you can do when your back is against the wall.”
“I don’t take any day for granted now. I live every day 100 percent,” said Umlah. “You never know what’s going to be tomorrow.”