Fundraisers set in Hoffman Estates for paralyzed hockey player
During games this weekend and Monday, the Chicago Cougars hockey team and the Hoffman Estates Park District's youth hockey program will honor and raise funds for a 20-year-old Cougars player from Minnesota who suffered a severe spinal cord injury Feb. 21 during a game on the team's home rink at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.
Matt Olson of Isanti, Minnesota, remains hospitalized at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge after his skate blade caught an ice edge while racing for the puck behind the net during last Sunday's Cougars game. His injury was not the result of physical contact with another player.
Mike Tompkins, business manager and co-owner of the Chicago Cougars, said Olson is experiencing paralysis from the shoulders down, but there is hope for improvement.
Family members reporting on Olson's caringbridge.org site wrote that a CT scan and MRI showed his spine to be in good alignment, but that there continued to be a lot of swelling around it.
According to the journal entry, Olson has become adept in the past few days in communicating through facial expressions and a visual board. He reportedly was getting stronger each day.
Tompkins said that while Olson began playing for the Cougars only in September and lived with a family in Wauconda, his influence in the Hoffman Estates area has been huge.
In addition to participating in a number of charitable events for seniors and at GiGi's Playhouse for kids with Down syndrome, Olson was among the Cougars' leading mentors and role models for the young hockey players at the Hoffman Estates Park District.
"They've been phenomenal," said Randy Jordan, hockey manager for the park district. "Great, great young men. This young man Matt Olson has been here a number of times out of his own heart."
Tompkins said there is no requirement for team members to volunteer for the Cougars' community events. But Olson was at all nine this season.
Jordan said Olson quickly became someone the young players looked up to for his character on and off the ice. And that made his injury all the more distressing.
"From our own program's perspective, it's been absolute shock and horror," Jordan said.
Olson's girlfriend has arrived from Texas and joined his family in keeping his spirits up and humor bright at his bedside, Tompkins said.
Though this weekend marks the playoffs the Cougars prepared so hard for, the focus now is not on winning hockey games, but support for Olson's continued recovery, he said. The Cougars play in the Western Conference of the Midwest Division of the U.S. Premier Hockey League.
The Cougars' playoff game -- 8 p.m. Saturday at the Sears Centre Arena -- will be Matt Olson Night, while the one at 7:30 p.m. Sunday will be Olson Family Night.
All proceeds from donations as well as the sales of cookies, bracelets, buttons, T-shirts and jerseys will go directly to Olson's GoFundMe account, which had raised more than $57,000 as of Friday afternoon.
At 7 p.m. Monday, the Hoffman Estates Park District will host an exhibition game between the national tournament-bound Coyotes 1 Mite Team against Squirt NIHL at the Triphahn Center, 1685 W. Higgins Road in Hoffman Estates.
Donations will be collected and a silent auction will be held to raise funds for Olson's continuing medical care. There will be a moment of silence for Olson and the young players will be wearing arm bands in the Cougars' green and gold.