Monday, February 11, 2008

Rangers brighten teenager's world

From left, former Ranger Kyle Jean and current Ranger goaltender Matt Brooker pose with Marquette’s Daren Hillier and Rangers forwards Collin Saint-Onge and Austin Mattson during a recent visit at Marquette General Health Systems.

After being on the road for most of February, the Marquette Rangers return home March 7-8 to play Mahoning Valley at Lakeview Arena. And you can bet that if he’s able to be there, Daren Hillier will be in the southwest corner of Lakeview Arena cheering on his team.

The 13-year-old Marquette resident loves hockey, but due to physical limitations, he will never be able to play the sport he loves so much. However, that doesn’t stop the middle school student from taking in his cousin's youth games and as many Rangers games as possible.

But for several weeks late last year, Daren wasn’t at any Rangers’ games due to his health.

In November, the Rangers were made aware of a long hospital stay Daren was undergoing due to two complicated back surgeries and decided they wanted to give back some of the support they had received from the Hillier family by visiting Daren at Marquette General Health Systems in between surgeries.

Goaltender Matt Brooker, along with forwards Collin Saint-Onge and Austin Mattson, now former Ranger Kyle Jean and head coach Randy Enders made the short trip from Lakeview Arena to surprise the family after practice.

“Daren’s eyes just lit-up when the Rangers players walked in the door,” said Daren’s mother, Shelby Hillier. “The whole team had signed a jersey and they gave it to Daren, which was extra special, and they stayed for awhile and encouraged him to get well after his operations.”

Several days later, Daren underwent the second successful operation and the family received an unexpected visitor when Brooker returned and brought a game puck from the previous weekend.

“Daren loves the goalie position, and if he could play he’d want to be a goaltender, so for Matt to come back and visit on his own made our long stay in the hospital a little easier,” Shelby Hillier added. “Matt came in and told Daren he had been thinking about him and wanted to see how he was doing after his second operation. For him to make that extra gesture…what a terrific young man.”

Enders said this visit, and others like it, are typical of the type of person the organization looks for when picking the team.

“We want our players to excel on the ice, but we also try and present our guys opportunities to give back to the communities that support the team," noted Enders. "We’re about hockey players, but we’re also in the business of building young men and trying to help shape them into the citizens they’re going to become.

“Plus, visits like this are great memories for our guys, too, so we try and get out as often as we can. Knowing Daren is a fan of the team made it even more special for us, and you can tell this kid had an impact on our players as well. He’s an inspirational young man and the kind of guy you never forget.”

Once home and feeling better, Daren and the Hillier family returned for the Rangers home game against Traverse City Dec. 28 where they received another unexpected gift from the team.

“After warm-ups, a Ranger player brought a puck to us and after the game the whole team skated down to the corner of the rink where we always sit with Daren and they saluted him before heading off the ice," Shelby Hillier said. "There wasn’t a dry eye in our entire family. It’s something we’ll never forget."

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