Thirteen years ago, Mike Vellinga was an OHL champion (with the Guelph Storm) and a Blackhawks' seventh-round draft pick. A tough, hard-shooting defenceman, he was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his dream of making the NHL.
While Vellinga never made it that far, his 10-team, 11-year, 710-game journey through four different leagues did bring him another gift: his wife, the former Andrea Voss, and their daughter, Lydia, now 4. Vellinga retired after the 2008-09 season, as the three moved closer to Andrea's family in Pendleton, Ind.
On Aug. 13, she was excited to see the country duo Sugarland at the Indiana State Fair. She had tickets; real good seats.
You may have heard what happened that night. Under the pressure of heavy winds, the stage collapsed. Seven people were killed and many others seriously injured. Andrea Vellinga was one of them.
The great news is that, last week, she awoke from a month-long coma. A tracheotomy tube was removed days later. But, Vellinga is just beginning the lengthy recovery from a broken shoulder, a couple of broken vertebrae, pneumonia and, most seriously, severe head trauma. The accident injured the right side of her brain, which means she's having difficulty with the left side of her body. Andrea must wear a helmet whenever she leaves the bed, because a portion of her skull still needs to be replaced.
"When I first saw her, she was hooked up to 15 machines," said Chris Hajt, a former OHL teammate of Mike's and a current Storm assistant coach. "She couldn't breathe on her own. Now, she's writing. They asked her, 'What's your husband's name?' She wrote 'Mike.' 'What's your daughter's name?' 'Lydia.'"
"Mike brought the wedding rings to her one day. She was moving her right hand, so he gave them to her. She put them on her ring finger right away."
Lydia was prevented from seeing her mother for almost three weeks, as doctors wanted Andrea to heal a little.
"I was really worried about (Lydia) when we went to visit, so we stocked up on toys. When I got there, she already had more toys than I'd ever seen before," Hajt laughed. "She's back at school now and is doing very well."
But, it's been harder to get a read on his former teammate.
"Mike won't say much about himself," Hajt said. "If I call and ask how he's doing, he'll just say, 'Today was a good day for Andrea.'"
With his wife Jen, Chris joined the leading scorers of that 1998 OHL champion, Brian Willsie (wife Kelly) and Andrew Long (Jacklyn), in raising money to support the family. (Andrea is in a long-term care facility and the medical costs are substantial.)
Friday night, the Storm lost their home opener, 6-4 to Owen Sound. But the game was almost secondary to a night of fundraising that collected $15,000. Guelph alumni Jeff O'Neill and Dan Cloutier returned to sign autographs and do whatever was necessary. Former coach George Burnett donated items, as did Bruins winger Daniel Paille. (Paille sent two tickets to a Bruins/Jets game, two nights at a hotel and private dinner from a chef.)
The fan base was very generous, passing buckets around the Sleeman Centre stands, adding to the total.
Andrea's brother, Tyler, created a Facebook page and website that constantly updates her condition. There is also the Andrea Vellinga Fund, created by the Storm. Click on the links, please help out if you can.
We'd all like to see a happy ending.
1. One other fundraising effort to watch: Love for Lokomotiv. Led by NHL wives Kodette LaBarbera, Katerina Jokinen and Brijet Whitney, it will sell bracelets (among other items) at NHL rinks this season. For example, Brandy Ladd, Rachel Fehr and the Jets wives will be selling $50 autographed pucks at the home opener, with proceeds going to this charity.
2. Biggest criticism (from people who really know the league) about my blog last week saying the Kings should give in to Drew Doughty: that he isn't in good enough shape to be a franchise player. From what I understand, he was told that in no uncertain terms at the end of the season. Hearing he got the message.
3. Dean Lombardi confirmed Doughty would not be traded. There were some Doughty-to-Boston rumours, but that's to be expected. Peter Chiarelli tends to be pretty proactive when it comes to who could be available. It's a general manager's job to know.
4. Before every team's fans go loopy over their young players, remember one thing: the veterans don't start trying until this second week of exhibition play. Now, we separate the men from the boys.
5. One former player: "I've never seen anyone do what the Canucks are doing (holding back their top guys in the pre-season)." As is usual for Vancouver, this isn't happening without extensive thought. VP of Hockey Operations Laurence Gilman said the organization researched how previous teams who reached the Final started the next season. The Canucks figured the best way to keep the group fresh physically and emotionally (especially with their travel) was by practicing hard, but not playing as much - yet.
6. Most intense pre-season performance: Randy Carlyle. The Ducks started 0-3 and were outscored 18-6. Saturday in Vancouver: long morning meeting. Another meeting pre-game. "Hockey school," someone called it.
7. Max Pacioretty admitted being nervous about taking a hit until he was (accidentally) bumped during a skate just before camp started. His neck cracked - loudly. He paused, bracing for pain, but felt fine. After that, he said, he knew he'd be fine.
8. Corey Perry has won almost everything: the OHL Cup (as a midget), Memorial Cup, world juniors, Stanley Cup, Olympic gold. All that's missing is the world championships. Why? People who know him say his incredible competitiveness won't let him forget tough losses. Two stand out: 2004 OHL playoffs versus Guelph and the Game 7 loss to Detroit in 2009. "I was on the ice for the winning goal," he said.
9. Mentioned to Perry the story about Michael Jordan buying his own Ping-Pong table to improve after a teammate beat him. (Jordan became the best at that, too.) "I'm not that bad," the Ducks winger laughed. He did say, however, that an aunt once asked him why he becomes such a different person on the ice.
10. One final note about the reigning MVP: he's fiercely loyal. Every Tuesday during the summer he golfs with former London Knight teammates Danny Syvret, Rob Schremp and Kelly Thomson. That's his group, and it will always be that way.
11. Robyn Regehr with some interesting insights into the stylistic differences between Calgary and Buffalo. One: "Here, they want the defence to go much further up ice. That doesn't affect me as much ... but I know I'll have to cover for [partner Tyler Myers]." Two: "[Lindy Ruff] plays some different systems here, including a 1-3-1. I've never played that before. In Calgary, we always played a 1-2-2 ... As the left defenceman, I'll be the one [farthest back], but it will still be new for me." Three: "They play an attacking collapse in the defensive zone ... Everywhere I've been, there is always supposed to be one defenceman in the front of the net. Here, when the puck goes below the line, both defencemen and a forward pursue, with another forward going to the front."
12. The NHL and Brendan Shanahan are getting positive reviews for the video explanations. Sounds like there might be a case or two this season where videos will be posted explaining why someone didn't get punished. That's a pretty smart idea.
13. A few tweeters laughed at Brad Boyes' two exhibition-game suspension for the shot to Joe Colborne's head. On the surface, it seems useless, but there's another factor. It creates "repeat-offender" status for Boyes, and it's pretty clear those are the guys the league is going to hammer.
14. It's obvious the beginning of this season is going to resemble the obstruction crackdown of 2005-06. There's going to be confusion and frustration. Both Ron Wilson and Lindy Ruff said that coaches (and executives) are going to have to be very patient. "There will be some [calls] you like and some you don't," Ruff said. "But, put yourself in the referees' shoes. I can go into the room between periods, slow it down and watch from different angles. They have to make the call right away."
15. One of the players who could have a difficult adjustment is Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf. He hit Ottawa's Tim Conboy last week, and had one referee telling him it was a penalty and one saying the opposite. (He got fingered for elbowing.) Then, there was another visit to the box for this one on Michael Ryan. Ruff on the second one: "When I played, that was a great hit ... I didn't think it was too bad, but, in this climate, you probably have an obligation to call it."
16. One last note on Buffalo: the new dressing room setup is based on what Ruff saw in Vancouver with the Canadian Olympic Team. It used to be a square-like setup, but will now be more oval. The only things the coach asked for: a bigger video room and, "I'm not a colour guy, but there was some old grey I wanted to get rid of." New choice: Beige. Ruff joked that the new room is so big "we're going to need a GPS to find the players."
17. Was weird watching Miikka Kiprusoff come off the bench midway through the game Sunday night as Calgary played Edmonton. A lot of coaches wouldn't risk bringing in the No. 1 goalie cold, especially in an exhibition game. Brent Sutter's got brass ones, though.
18. After Ottawa's opening pre-season game, saw Mika Zibanejad limping towards the bus on an obviously sore foot. "What bad luck in his first game," I thought. Shot off the foot? Leg give way on a turn? Nope. Apparently, he was a little nervous and tied his skates too tight. He's fine.
19. That Winnipeg ticket lottery is really something. About 600 tickets left per game, to be distributed randomly. And, if you win, the particular credit card can't be used again.
20. One of the Jets said a five-minute drive to the exhibition opener took him 45 minutes. Better leave early on Oct. 9.
21. Zach Bogosian is as ripped as it gets, but he's dropped about 20 pounds in an attempt to improve his aerobics. Played last year at 230, now down around 210. Guarantee Charlie Huddy has a huge impact on Bogosian. One former teammate on Huddy: "If you don't get along with him, you've got the problem."
22. The Maple Leafs are thinking about switching Cody Franson, a right-handed shot, to the left side. Franson played that way for the first time and "It felt awkward," he told The Globe and Mail. "Everything takes a second longer ... You've got to pull pucks in the offensive zone off the wall with your backhand instead of your forehand." That's a tough skill. Who did it best? According to Garry Galley, it was Ray Bourque: "He could do it in one motion. It was pretty amazing."
23. Always thought the NHL missed the marketing boat when it came to Mike Modano. Star player, friendly, good-looking, big-time market for most of his career. Should have been a cross-promotional superstar. If he was 23 in this media age, he'd be the league's second-most marketable player.
24. On-ice memory would have to be the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. Modano suffered a broken wrist when checked by Jay McKee in Game 2. Ken Hitchcock had a heart-to-heart with him about how a star player must still deliver. Modano assisted on the last five Dallas goals of that tight, tough series.
25. Avalanche forward T.J. Galiardi had an interesting method of adding weight this summer. He really struggled to do it, so he ate a ton before starting to train. That put on the mass, which he worked hard to shape. Good thing, because there was some concern it was a bad idea.
26. Mike Cammalleri tweeted that he watched Field of Dreams before Saturday's game, calling it "perfect for an afternoon nap." He scored twice. Jacques Martin should buy him the DVD.
27. One of the reasons Columbus went after James Wisniewski is that it wanted to add some edge (alongside R.J. Umberger) to a team with a lot of "nice guys." But Wisniewski's going to have to dial it back. The Blue Jackets need him in the lineup, not getting baited into suspensions.
28. A Twitter follower (mikeVSphilly) and a buddy of mine sent a note saying an NFL reporter mentioned Sunday that the Penguins called the Eagles, looking for information about Michael Vick's concussion tests. Didn't see the report, but did follow up. Through a spokesperson, Penguins GM Ray Shero said there was no inquiry.
29. With all the talk about Hockey Sabermetrics, wanted to give a shout-out to the "Fear the Fin" blog. It did a terrific three-part interview with Doug Wilson last week. (Part I here). Wilson bobs and weaves from most of the mathematical stuff, but it's worth the time.
30. If there were two things I didn't like last week, it was the banana-tossing incident and the NHL's statement about it. You have to come out stronger than that, if only to show Wayne Simmonds the league has his back. (London mayor Joe Fontana's quote was really good.) No one who isn't from there loves the city of London more than I do. But the fact the thrower remains anonymous is a complete embarrassment.
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