by Mario Bartel / Burnaby Now
SEPTEMBER 1, 2018 06:02 AM
A former Burnaby Winter Club hockey player who’s spent his life battling on the ice is now in the battle of his life.
And friends in the hockey community around the world are rallying support.
Wade MacLeod underwent surgery Monday to remove a Grade 3 Glioblastoma tumour from his brain. It was his second such surgery in two months and the fourth in the past five years.
This time the stakes are especially high, said Mike Armstrong, a family friend who launched a GoFundMe campaign last weekend to help MacLeod’s young family cope with the expenses of his treatment, recovery and possible alternative therapies — a family that grew 11 months ago with the birth of his first child, Ava James.
“He needs to do everything he can to get better,” Armstrong said.
MacLeod, 31, played his minor hockey at Burnaby Winter Club. He then graduated to the Merritt Centennials in the BC Hockey League where he scored 105 points in 60 games in the 2006-07 season. That was fourth best in the league that year, not too far behind future NHLers Kyle Turris and Tyler Bozak.
MacLeod’s NHL dream never came true.
But that didn’t stop him from trying. Or doing whatever he could and going wherever he needed to keep playing the sport he loves, Armstrong said.
After playing four years at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., where MacLeod also earned a business degree, he signed his first pro contract with the Springfield Falcons, then the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Columbus Bluejackets. He scored three points in nine games, then improved the next season to 29 points in 66 games.
But part way through MacLeod’s second full season as a pro, in a game against the Adirondack Phantoms on Hockey Day in America, he was hit into the boards by Phantoms’ forward Brandon Manning. MacLeod got back to his skates, then, as he made his way to the bench, he collapsed and went into convulsions on the ice.
Medics rushed to help MacLeod and he was stretchered off the ice and then to a Springfield hospital. The game was suspended.
The seizure MacLeod suffered wasn’t because of the hit. A CT scan discovered a tumour on the left side of his brain. It was about the size of a golf ball, but it was deemed non-cancerous. A month later doctors removed it in a four-hour operation that temporarily cost him the ability to speak.
“It turned out to be a blessing,” MacLeod told the Springfield Republican newspaper of the hit that sparked his seizure. “It could have happened while I was driving and then who knows what would have happened.”
After extensive rehab, MacLeod laced up his skates again, determined to resume his hockey career.
But the Falcons thought otherwise. They didn’t offer him another contract.
So MacLeod headed to Evansville, Ind., where he caught on with the IceMen of the East Coast Hockey League, a rung down hockey’s professional ladder, but a chance to prove to a team higher up that he could still play. He scored seven points in five games and the next season his former coach at Northeastern who was now an assistant coach for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs got him a tryout contract for their AHL minor league team, the Toronto Marlies.
MacLeod scored goals in his first two pre-season games, including a game winner against the Hamilton Bulldogs. He played 34 games and scored 15 points for the team before he was loaned to the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL.
After another season in hockey’s hinterlands, this time in Boise, Idaho, with the Steelheads, MacLeod headed to Europe where he played for the Rosenheim Star Bulls, a second-division pro team in Germany. He had a good year, amassing 61 points in 50 games.
But during the off season, doctors discovered the tumour in MacLeod’s brain was growing back. In September, 2016, he had another surgery to remove the new growth and, just like before, he returned to the ice as soon as he was given clearance to resume training.
In March, 2017, after three scans of his brain showed no regrowth of the tumour, MacLeod signed with the ECHL’s Allen Americans in Allen, Texas.
“That was the best opportunity to win a championship and that’s something I haven’t done yet in my career,” MacLeod told Americans’ broadcaster Tommy Daniels. “I’m here now, and I’m ready to play.”
MacLeod scored 13 points in 13 games, a point-a-game pace he continued last season back in Germany, this time with the Frankfurt Lions.
Armstrong said MacLeod, who resides in Port Moody during the off-season, didn’t let the nomadic nature of his hockey career get him down.
“He’s just the happiest guy,” Armstrong said of his friend, adding MacLeod started a hockey school with another former BWC Bruin, Tyler McNeely, who starred for the Burnaby Express.
“He was giving back. He’s just a great guy.”
In just four days, Armstrong’s GoFundMe campaign raised more than $85,000 of its $100,000 goal and generated an outpouring of support from fans and former teammates wherever MacLeod played.
“I really hope we can see you again in Frankfurt,” said one message from Germany.
“Northeastern Alum praying for Wade and his family,” said another.
Armstrong said reaching out to MacLeod’s former stomping grounds was his first thought.
“Wade’s a popular player wherever he goes,” he said. “He’s a great teammate.”
Which makes the prognosis that MacLeod’s playing days are likely over that much more difficult. But that’s the furthest thing from anyone’s thoughts as he recovers and tries to regain his health and enjoy his family, Armstrong said.
“For him to bounce back each and every time is inspiring for all of us,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve this.”
• To donate to the GoFundMe campaign to help Wade MacLeod, go to https://www.gofundme.com/wade039s-treatment-fund