Hockey family is a cut above
First published: Saturday, February 11, 2006
TROY -- When a recruit makes an official college visit, he may be promised things, playing time, his favored position, and this:
This team is like family.
That's what he's invariably told and wants to believe.
They can't all be like family, though, so when Kirk MacDonald visited RPI from his home in Victoria, B.C., three time zones and 3,000 miles away, and a prospective hockey teammate told him, "Hey man, this is a family-type atmosphere," Kirk wondered, Is this just them trying to get me to come here, the usual spiel: Our place is better than their place?
But he came, and they were kindred, almost from the moment MacDonald met incoming teammates at freshman orientation.
"I was dumped before noon hour the first day," MacDonald's father, Wayne, would say.
"You get there," Kirk says, "and you've immediately got 25 best friends."
It is a blessing to have family on which to rely at times of crisis.
It is a gift to be supported by friends, teammates and coaches too. That's why a pair of Engineers' heads have been shaved after every home game, to raise money for cancer research (fans must donate at least $100 for clippers to buzz), to raise awareness, to raise attendance, and most important, to support Kirk as he sits out the season recovering from testicular cancer, which is in remission.
Friday night was defenseman Keith MCWilliams' and sports information director Kevin Beattie's turn.
Tonight, at the Big Red Freakout, Kirk's gelled black locks will be shorn.
"When something like this happens you find out how great a place is, and how great people can be," Kirk says.
He feels well now, but to get to feel-good he had to feel awful first, and the chemotherapy wasn't the worst of it. It was the two months in a Vancouver, B.C., hospital recovering from a torn incision, infection and intestinal adhesions, Kirk's weight dropping from 205 to 132 pounds, his 6-foot-2 body attached to an IV that felt like shackles when he walked.
"It was almost like I was in jail," he says.
Was he depressed?
Of course he was depressed.
He was confined to a hospital room -- for how long, he didn't know -- when he should've been at the house he shared with his friends and teammates, every weekday at 1 p.m. watching The Cosby Show on TBS with Kevin Croxton.
So when a teammate would call from a party at 3 a.m. EST just to say whatever he was trying to say, Kirk would be reminded in good times and bad, he wasn't forgotten. Some days the phone would ring so often he'd have to unplug it, and yet he felt connected.
Just as when coach Dan Fridgen opened his home for Kirk to live in for three weeks after he underwent surgery to remove the malignant tumor last April -- and Fridgen's wife, Kary, tried to tempt Kirk with food he might eat and not vomit -- Kirk was cared for as if family.
Or when Kirk was feverish and needed antibiotics that could've waited until morning -- but RPI medical director Les Lawrence filled the prescription and delivered it from Saratoga Springs, where he lives, that night.
Or when Kirk flew into Albany International Airport to return to campus Nov. 10, his body emaciated but his spirit soaring, teammates offered a greeting befitting someone who'd scored a life-winning goal.
And when a fan presented Kirk with a sign at a game that read "GO MAC ATTACK" and told him he'd like it back when he returns to play next season, Kirk realized how far the family extends, a promise fulfilled.