Two months ago, 12-year-old Nick Miller was flying around the ice and making things happen for the Leafs Hockey Club Bantam hockey team.
Now, Miller has little energy, sapped by chemotherapy treatments to battle leukemia. He has been knocked out of hockey, and school, for the rest of the year as he faces a grueling recovery process.
But this weekend, Miller received an unexpected pick-me-up from an NHL Hall of Famer.
Nick, the third of four hockey-playing brothers in his family and a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan, had lunch with former Penguins great and team owner Mario Lemieux.
“It was phenomenal,” said Andy Miller, Nick’s father. “This has been a roller coaster of emotions the last month. We heard about it last Wednesday and met Mario Friday. He was as gracious and kind as anyone can imagine.”
Jerry Marzejon, Miller’s coach with the Leafs, learned from a friend that Lemieux was coming to the Chicago area for a tournament with his son’s team. Marzejon set up the meeting through Lemieux’s manager. Lemieux, the NHL’s seventh-leading career scorer, is a cancer survivor himself.
His first retirement, in 1993, came after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Nick Miller, a seventh-grader at Hampshire Middle School, received an autographed Lemieux jersey, an autographed Stanley Cup picture and a replica Stanley Cup from Lemieux.
Nick’s oldest brother, Tim, played hockey for Jacobs and now plays at Western Illinois University. The next-oldest brother, Andy, graduated from Jacobs in the spring. He plays for Team Illinois and soon will be looking to play Junior Hockey. Lemieux spoke with Andy at length after lunch Friday about what steps to take in his career. The youngest brother, Mike, is an 11-year-old player in the Leafs program.
The Jacobs Hockey Club will host its Alumni Game and Miller Family Benefit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at the Crystal Ice House in Crystal Lake. The Ice House has donated the ice time, local referees will donate their time, and former Jacobs players are invited to attend and play.
Kathy Tomasino, who works for the Jacobs Hockey Club Alumni Association and the Miller Family Fund Committee, said admission to the game is free, although those attending are asked to make donations to the fund. Anyone interested can find more information on Miller at www.caringbridge.org/visit/nickmiller. Anyone wanting to make donations may mail them to: Kathy Tomasino, 1381 Westbourne Parkway, Algonquin, IL 60102.
Nick was a little groggy during the lunch from his treatments. He did raise his head at one point to ask a question about his favorite player, Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
“He asked if Mario lived with Sidney Crosby, and Mario said, ‘He lives with me,’ ” said Maria Miller, Nick’s mother. “I was so surprised that people would go so far out of their way to set it up, people who didn’t even know [Nick].”
Maria says Nick’s days are “pretty miserable” between the chemotherapy and taking steroids that go with it. Nick said lunch with Lemieux “was a good experience,” and he’s looking forward to a package soon from Crosby.
Time change: Cary-Grove fans will have a busy Saturday with a 1 p.m. IHSA Class 6A football playoff game at home against Chicago De La Salle and the girls volleyball team playing in the Class 4A State Tournament that evening.
C-G principal Jay Sargeant tried to schedule the game for noon. Under IHSA rules, games are supposed to start between 1 and 7 p.m., but if both schools agree and the IHSA concurs, games can be scheduled at different times. Sargeant had spoken to De La Salle officials and with IHSA assistant executive director Dave Gannaway and had the game set for noon.
Later Monday, C-G assistant athletic director Jim Altendorf said De La Salle officials had a conflict and needed a 1 p.m. start.
C-G has fan buses ready to leave the football game for Illinois State University in Normal about 3 p.m. The Class 4A third-place match begins at 6:45 p.m., and the championship match starts at 7:45.
• Joe Stevenson covers high school sports for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4513. He also can be reached by fax at 815-459-5640 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.