Mikael Kingo likes to be different.
When the Vaughan (Ont.) Kings minor midget AAA goaltender takes the ice for a game, your eyes are instantly drawn towards his gold-colored catching glove with a bullseye graphic. Before that, he had a bright red glove to go with his solid black pads. Not exactly the makings of an award-winning getup in the goalie world, but it certainly catches your attention. Kingo wouldn’t have it any other way.
Style points aside, Kingo has become a top goalie prospect for the 2020 OHL draft due to his athleticism, speed in the crease and quick glove hand. If you were to know him for just his on-ice skill – and his unique equipment setup – you’d think he’s a typical teenage stopper looking to make a career out of the sport he loves. But Kingo’s life story goes deeper than his on-ice antics.
At 15, Kingo has been through a lot more off the ice than the typical teenager. Born to Swedish parents in Canada, Kingo spent much of his infancy in the hospital fighting Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a disorder that affects the stomach and esophagus, causing heartburn and acid regurgitation. He eventually got better and began playing hockey a few years later under the tutelage of Canadian Olympic women’s hockey champion Becky Kellar.
When Kingo made a rep team at age six, he started creating bracelets to sell as his first little business. He raised enough to donate money to complex-care patients staying in hospitals and used the rest to purchase his own set of goalie pads. That experience sparked his entrepreneurial spirit.
Since then, Kingo has launched a couple of side businesses, including selling more than $10,000 worth of fidget spinners and buying and selling clothes at a profit. He even opened up a stock-trading account at age 12. If hockey doesn’t work out, Kingo hopes to run a business on a bigger scale than just reselling toys and handmade creations.
While Kingo’s youth hockey career began to take off, his mother Lisette became seriously ill. She was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos TNX, an incurable condition that, among other things, makes her arteries extremely fragile. Doctors described her body to her as “a house built without mortar.” Lisette had to deal with disseminated intravascular coagulation (internal bleeding), requiring a high volume of blood donations to stay alive.
It almost all came to a tragic end four years ago. While Kingo was in Buffalo for a tournament, he and his father received a call that Lisette was in intensive care on life support. The family was called in to say their goodbyes.
Four years later, Kingo still has his mother by his side. Lisette requires regular treatments, but she’s up, active and positive about everything. She’s involved in a couple ventures, namely her foundation, the Angel Project. Lisette founded the Angel Project in 2008 in Burlington, Ont., helping provide patients and hospitals with customized wheelchairs, upgraded rehabilitation spaces and other equipment to help those in need. Extra funds are used for day-to-day items such as blankets, self-care products and Christmas presents.
Having a charitable aspect to his hockey career is something in which Kingo takes pride. Earlier this year, he awarded his first “birthday sponsorship,” a donation toward new pads for a young goaltender in need. The first recipient was an 11-year-old who was a victim of bullying, something Kingo also dealt with growing up. He was never afraid to stand up for others, even if it made himself a target for retaliation.
In one incident, Kingo defended a new kid on his team who was getting bullied. He didn’t know the kid but he felt compelled to help. The other kids attacked Kingo, resulting in him nearly getting pulled from hockey for good.
Shortly after the incident, Lisette said then-Vaughan coach Vic Vescio recruited Kingo to play for the Kings, showing support for a young player in need. Lisette credits Vescio as being a major member of Kingo’s life, helping shape him into a young adult. “Mikael possesses compassion, maturity, generosity and an incredible drive to give back,” Vescio said. “As much as he has learned from me, I have learned from him the power of goodness.”
As Kingo has grown up, he has followed in his family’s footsteps by putting much of his focus towards helping others. Despite everything the Kingos have gone through, he makes it clear there are others who have been through much worse, and he’s thankful for what he has.
Through the Angel Project, he assists in running events put on by the organization, such as the Angel Tournament, a youth-hockey event with the tagline, “Skate for someone who can’t.” Hall of Fame center Doug Gilmour is among those involved, visiting many of the patients Kingo has worked to help out with along the way.
Every dollar raised by the Angel Project goes to support people in need of constant medical care. This year, Kingo got his team involved in the project, adopting a patient to offer direct support. “I brought it up to the team, and I thought it would be a great idea to get the team involved,” Kingo said. “Everyone was so supportive, which made me feel great. Just knowing that people are less fortunate and have been forgotten, it melts my heart, and it’s really sad.”
Kingo and his mom remain as close as ever. He visits her whenever he can during her treatments every Thursday. He remains a strong student, becoming an Ontario Scholar through high school after achieving an 85-percent average at Appleby College. “I’m extremely proud he chooses to spend his time to stand up for others,” Lisette said. “It’s very important we don’t raise a group of bystanders. We need to teach our children to stand up for what’s right.”
The OHL is the next anticipated milestone in Kingo’s young career before he becomes NHL draft-eligible in 2022. He ranks among the top five goalies for the OHL draft and could get selected in the early to middle rounds.
Kingo says he had to grow up quickly due to the obstacles he faced as a youth, and he credits the people he was surrounded by for making everything work. “Don’t ever think you’re too small to make a difference,” Lisette said. “This kid was five years old selling necklaces to neighbors and bringing them to patients in complex care, and he’s been doing it for 10 years. I admire him more than anything.”