BY JAMES COOK firstname.lastname@example.org and DENNIS CHASE email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Matthew Litchfield, keeping warm in his Detroit Red Wings sweatshirt, watched from along the boards Thursday morning as the team opened training camp at Centre ICE.
The Traverse City 9-year-old was a honorary Red Wing on this day. He and his family guests of coach Mike Babcock.
It was a day the Red Wings, along with staff and volunteers at the training camp, wanted to make special for a boy who has endured so much the last 10 months. Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumor last October — on Halloween — and has spent most of those 10 months in treatment at the University of Michigan Hospital. He’s now home and in hospice care.
“The prognosis is not good,” his mother, Heather, said. “He’s essentially terminal. The doctors told us to bring him home and let him enjoy the rest of his months. Who knows how long? I don’t think we’re seeking any further treatment. It had progressed quite a bit since he’s been through all his chemotherapy and radiation. There’s not much else they can do. This is it.”
Heather held Matthew as he watched practice. He’s now unable to walk. But he seemed to be in his element Thursday, watching and meeting his hockey heroes.
“It’s nice to get a break from everything and come out, have some fun and forget about all the everyday worries and things we’re going through right now,” his father, Bryan, said.
Matthew was able to meet, among others, Jimmy Howard, Chris Chelios, Kirk Maltby, Mickey Redmond, Niklas Kronwall, Jiri Fisher and Babcock.
Babcock made it a point to introduce himself to the family before practice, and chatting with Matthew for several minutes.
“It was exciting because he knew who we were,” Bryan said. “That’s overwhelming as hockey fans.”
Matthew grew up a hockey fan — a Wings fan — taking after his parents.
“When my husband and I first met, the first thing we did was go to a Red Wings game on New Year’s Eve,” Heather said. “That was pretty awesome.”
Bryan took Matthew to a Michigan hockey game.
“He absolutely loved it,” Heather said. “Being here, he’s in awe of all the players and all the equipment and being close to the ice.”
Close? Matthew was actually on the ice.
“I rode the zamboni,” he proudly proclaimed.
That wasn’t all.
Howard presented him with an autographed goalie mask. Kronwall talked with him about his pre-game and cool-down routines. Mark Howe took him up into the suite to meet all the scouts.
“Going up to the room and hanging out was pretty cool,” Matthew said.
He even got a tour of the equipment truck.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Heather said, “but he’s going with the flow.
“It’s incredible how the community has come out and reached out to us. It has made us and him feel very special. It’s amazing.”
“We really appreciate everybody inviting us out here today,” Bryan added.
The process started when training camp director Ann Reeves received an e-mail from an employee at Village Press, where Bryan worked.
“They knew Matthew was a Red Wings fan, and they told me of the situation,” Reeves said. “Obviously, we wanted to help and make it a special day for Matthew.
“I went and found coach Babcock and filled him in on the details. He said, ‘What are we doing for this young man?’ I said, ‘That’s why I’m here.’ We went up the store and got him a few things and he said, ‘Let’s make him an honorary Red Wing for the day. When can he be here?’”
Turns out, it was Thursday, although Matthew’s older sister, Jessica, was in school and unable to attend.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came later when officials presented the Litchfields with nearly $3,000.
Larry Angove raised $1,700 around the community. Terry Marchand, Centre ICE director, rounded it up to $2,000 with a donation from the arena. The Fedorinchik family and Hallmark Construction — which hauls team equipment during the Prospect Tournament — donated their tips and raised more funds for another $750. The cooks from Munson that made team staffers food in the suite chipped in and donated $100. Camp volunteers — the drivers — pitched in and bought Matthew a Red Wings blanket to keep him warm at the rink.
“The silver lining is this young man brought so many people together,” Reeves said. “What a cool kid with such a great spirit.”
Matthew left with various Red Wings items, including a book autographed by most of the team, an autographed Pavel Datsyuk stick, the goalie mask autographed by Howard (his favorite position is goalie), a hat, T-shirt and trading cards.