Terry Crisp will never forget the day he saw his youngest grandson struggle his way into the house, covered in blood.
Born with cerebral palsy and requiring the use of a walker to make up for weaknesses in his lower body, six-year-old Kale hesitantly revealed injuries that belied the smile on his face.
“My little man,” sighed the former Flames coach when asked about his beloved Kale.
“He was raised with hockey all around him and, despite limited movement in his legs, he insisted on playing with the kids in the summer time. His knuckles and knees bleeding, he’d come in and say ‘I was playing hockey.’
“He just wanted to be part of it so bad, and he knew if he cried we wouldn’t let him play. So, his little knees would be bleeding and he wouldn’t cry.”
Little did anyone in the Crisp family know it would be grandpa — known affectionately as Coach to all five grandkids — who’d be fighting back tears months later.
“I got a phone call one day, and Kale says ‘Coach — guess what? All your grandchildren have scored a goal,’ ” said Crisp of the day he learned Kale had found a way to truly participate in the game that has shaped his family’s life.
“I didn’t know what he was up to, but he’d started playing sledge hockey. He couldn’t wait to phone and tell me. It was one of the best days of my life.”
A broadcaster for Nashville Predators games who has been in town all weekend in advance of tonight’s Flames contest, Crisp got a chance to see Kale in action for the first time last night.
“He thinks he’s Jarome Iginla out there,” said Crisp proudly.
“I’ve seen him raised when all the other kids are running around and playing, and he’s always on the sidelines. Now, he’s no longer on the sidelines. That he doesn’t have to sit in a snowbank and watch, or push a walker … He doesn’t even have to touch the puck, but he can be on the ice with the boys … I say, my man, there is a pretty good God up there.”
Having recently returned from the Western Canadian Championships in Leduc, where he played on his first real team, Kale is, shockingly, one of just four junior boys under 12 in Calgary who play sledge hockey. They had to join up with Team Manitoba for the tourney, where they won bronze, albeit in a three-team event.
“When we went to Leduc, they got pummeled every game, but when they got their bronze medals, it was like they won the Olympics,” said Kale’s mom, Trish.
“They did the whole team picture. I was just crying as I was filming it. It’s a big deal for them — first time playing team sport for most. It’s very emotional. It just makes you feel very proud.”
With the Western Canadian tourney slated for Canada Olympic Park next year, Trish is helping to spread awareness for an open house next Saturday at Stew Hendry Arena at 6:15 p.m. Able-bodied athletes of all ages are also encouraged to show up with a helmet and a good attitude. Sleds and sticks will be provided.
“The whole tournament weekend was a lesson on the true meaning of sport,” said Trish, heartened to see the lads celebrate their one goal of the tourney in a 10-1 loss.
“Some of these kids have been through so much in their young lives, and to see them come together to play a sport they love and to have so much fun at it is very moving.”
Coach agrees, especially when Kale asked him to draw him up plays he’s seen Iginla and Sidney Crosby execute.
“This is a revelation,” said Crisp, whose son Jeff (Kale’s dad) is a scout for the Anaheim Ducks.
“Kale plays mini-hockey everywhere, and the two things that make him equal is in a pool and now with the sledge hockey — in his mind, he’s as good as anyone.
“To him, there are no boundaries.”
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada