One week before the season ends, a 5-year-old heart patient glides onto the rink at Northwoods Ice Center, hockey stick in hand, to take aim at his favorite goaltender.
From 22 feet away, Trevor Duquette slaps a puck past Spencer Martin of the San Antonio Rampage and into the net. The boy lifts his arms in triumph: “Goal!”
On the ice, a smattering of Rampage players applaud and offer encouragement to Duquette, an athletic boy who stands 41 inches tall and rarely misses a team practice. Off the ice, looking over the boards, Trevor’s parents, Bobby and Kristin Duquette, beam with pride and gratitude.
Their only child has recovered from his third heart operation faster than expected and defied a daunting prognosis. After discovering a defect in Trevor’s heart, doctors told Bobby, 29, and Kristin, 26, their son would never play sports. He would not even have the energy to skate.
But look at him now, moving effortlessly across the ice, slapping shots into the net, mixing it up with his heroes after practice. “He loves it,” Kristin said.
Trevor has become an adopted son, of sorts, for the Rampage, a favorite fan of the players who have formed a unique bond with him. The only child of Rampage season ticket holders, Trevor attends home games, greets the players with fist bumps after workouts and joins them, occasionally, for a post-practice skate.
What 5-year-old asks mom and dad to go to the ice rink so he can play with pro hockey players? What fan receives a get-well card signed by each member of a hockey team delivered directly to his hospital room after heart surgery?
“Trevor considers them his best friends,” Kristin said. “They’ve been great to him all season.”
When Kristin was five months pregnant, doctors discovered the fetus in her womb had a defect known as “double inlet left ventricle,” a condition in which one chamber of Trevor’s heart did not pump enough blood. Trevor underwent his first surgery when he was one month old. A second operation followed five months later, and a third procedure was performed on Jan. 20.
On Jan. 21, Martin made his first NHL start with the Colorado Avalanche. In front of several family members and friends, Martin recorded 27 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks. His performance would generate headlines in the local paper. Thirty minutes after the game, Martin texted Kristin.
“He wanted to make sure Trevor was doing well,” Kristin said.
Surgeons grafted a tube on the outside of Trevor’s heart to redirect the flow of blood to his body. The operation was a success. Doctors, his parents say, have cleared him to resume skating with the Rampage. “He’s been skating since he could walk,” Bobby said.
A Detroit native, Bobby introduced Trevor to ice hockey at the age of 2. “He fell in love with it,” Bobby said. “He doesn’t like any other sports.”
While stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Bobby became a Rampage season ticket holder. When his military contract ended and he was honorably discharged, he continued taking Kristin and Trevor to games. Soon, they began driving Trevor to morning practices, which conveniently ended before Bobby went to work as a closing shift manager of a pizza chain.
Trevor would climb on a chair to watch over the boards. He befriended players. Before long, he was invited onto the ice. Right wing Rocco Grimaldi made a special connection. The player who finished the season tied for third in the American Hockey League with 31 goals gave his hockey stick to Trevor. Bobby cut the stick down, and Trevor began taking it everywhere: to practice, to games, and to bed.
“It’s like another limb,” Kristin said.
Martin created his own bond. He donned his full goaltending gear and asked Trevor to slap some shots into the net. Martin allowed one puck after another to slide through his legs. For Martin, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 190 pounds, watching Trevor score was like watching a child opening a gift on Christmas.
“It’s a joy to see him learning the basics and shooting at a goalie who is a lot bigger than him,” Martin said. “You can’t help but love to be out there with him. He’s come a long way. If you look at how he’s playing with the puck from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, you can see he’s a lot better. You just want to be there all day with him.”
The ice rink is Trevor’s favorite playground. After a recent practice, he put on his black helmet, donned his black pads, laced up his black skates, and jumped into action. He shot pucks into the net, skated with A.J. Greer, who was recently named “AHL Man of the Year,” and let Grimaldi playfully drag him across the ice.
“For him to be able to do this,” Bobby said, “is unbelievable.”
The pleasure belongs to the players. “Any time any one of us can go out there and make someone happy, it’s an honor,” Grimaldi said. “It’s fun to watch him. I started when I was 4 years old. I know how it is to be that age and try to pick things up. It’s great to see how well he’s already doing. He’ll only get better from here.”
Trevor is a bit winded when he steps off the ice – winded but excited. He wants to catch his breath for a moment and return to the ice but the players are heading to the locker room. As Trevor removes his skates and pads, he takes a question from a reporter.
Who’s your favorite player?
“Sam Jardine,” he said. “And Spencer Martin.”
He also says he likes Rocco Grimaldi. Why?
“I like the stick a whole bunch,” Trevor said. “He gave it to me.”
The interview ends because Trevor has work to do. Outside the ice rink, he grabs his stick, the one with the rainbow-colored blade, and sends a puck flying.