Dream debut for Sloan

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

After seven years, five teams and two tiers of minor leagues, Tyler Sloan is about to realize his lifelong dream of playing in the NHL.

In what might appear to be a perfect debut for a Calgary kid, the 27-year-old call-up from Hershey will play in front of his friends and family at the Saddledome tonight alongside Washington teammates like Alex Ovechkin and Calgary's Mike Green.

However, it's not idyllic as someone very important will be missing from the celebration.

No matter how hard you think it might've been for Sloan to keep the faith on a journey that has taken him to hockey backwaters like Dayton, Oh., or Las Vegas of the East Coast league, none of the hockey heartache he's endured compares to the loss he suffered three days before his 19th birthday.

Months from making her Olympic debut as a five-time Canadian swimming champion, 20-year-old sister Tara succumbed to injuries suffered eight days earlier when she lost control of her vehicle and rolled several times west of Medicine Hat.

It was March, 2000, and she was on her way to visit her grandmother.

"There still isn't a day that goes by I don't think of her, but more-so in this situation," said Sloan, doing well to maintain his composure in the lobby of the Sheraton Eau Claire yesterday.

"It gets tougher to think of her the closer I've gotten to this goal because I just wish she was here to share it with me."

Undrafted and unsure of his future as an 18-year-old with the Calgary Royals at the time of Tara's death, the now 6-foot-3, 205-lb. defenceman finished the year before being thrust onto a path leading in a roundabout way to tonight.

"The year she passed away, I signed with Columbus and played in Kamloops and that sort of started things off," said Sloan, a veteran of 288 AHL and 118 ECHL games.

"And now that I'm here, I would've loved for her to be here and to see this -- I'm sure she'll be watching. It's pretty special and I'll definitely be thinking of her."

So will his parents, Gayle and Fred, the latter of whom had just driven Tyler's car 36 hours to Hershey, Pa. before his son got Sunday's dream call-up.

"They were so close," said Fred, choking back tears minutes before leaving for the Hershey airport yesterday so he can get back to Calgary for the game.

"I think Tyler drew a lot from her. She was so mentally focused and disciplined. You never know with stuff like that if it's a negative or positive but for him it was a positive. In some ways, she helped make his dream true."

Donating her organs so others could benefit from her extraordinary heart, Tyler also took from Tara her journal outlining her preparations, accomplishments and goals.

Seeing the dedication in her handwriting over the years served as an inspiration.

"What is grieving -- you can sit around and let it be a negative or you can say to yourself 'what would Tara want me to do?' In this case she would've said 'don't ruin your life because mine is gone...' and I think that's what he did," said Fred.

"Maybe grieving can be the pursuit of something in your heart. Use the strength you got from her and pursue your dream."

Last night, Gayle had the unexpected pleasure of cooking for both her sons -- Tyler and Trevor -- as they looked forward to a magical evening at the 'Dome tonight.

"I'm not sure where Tara is but I know she's very proud of him," said Mom, understandably emotional.

"We talk about Tara all the time and Tyler had some tough years there. This is just so exciting for him."

Sloan's is a beautiful story about love, loss, heart and perseverance capped off by the power of rewards as Capitals coach and career minor-leaguer Bruce Boudreau knows Sloan's story well.

"For him to give me this opportunity in my hometown -- I can't thank him enough," he said.

"It says a lot about him."

It says even more about Sloan.


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