(Author’s note: In December, 2018, we brought you the story of Owen Brady, a top prospect for the 2019 Ontario League draft who was diagnosed with cancer. We also said we would keep our readers updated on his journey to recovery, right up to his first OHL game. This is the third of those updates.)
It was in a near-empty arena in late June that Owen Brady took his first not-so-tentative steps toward ultimately getting back on the ice and playing hockey. On a Monday morning with a couple of teammates, his physiotherapist and former NHLer Paul Ranger, the 16-year-old felt the ice under his feet for the first time in six months.
“The physio guy’s only goal was to have Owen ‘T-push’ and learn to skate again by pushing the net the length of the ice,” said Chris Brady, Owen’s father. “Within the first eight seconds he had accomplished that. So we were all kind of giggling, saying, ‘OK, I guess he can do that.’ ”
Through the laughter, though, were tears. Tears of joy that Owen Brady had overcome another obstacle in his long road back from his cancer diagnosis last December. One of the top defense prospects for the 2019 Ontario League draft and the captain of the Whitby Wildcats AAA midget team had his life thrown into chaos last December when doctors discovered a five-centimeter tumor growing on his left shin just below his knee. The first thing Owen’s surgeon told him was that he would never play competitive hockey again, which was amended to a one-to-two-year recovery period. Since the surgery to remove the tumor, it has been a dizzying schedule of chemotherapy and rehab and despite some dark moments, there is no reason not to expect a complete recovery.
When surgeons did the pathology on the tumor itself, the cancer cells were found to be of a “lower-grade,” meaning there is very little chance they will return later in life. Owen was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the same cancer Terry Fox had, which is now curable thanks to advancements in cancer research. “The surgeon said they’re well behaved cancer cells relative to aggressive ones,” Chris said. “Bottom line is, will it come back? And the probability is very low that it will come back when he’s older.”
Much has happened for Owen Brady over the past couple of months. He was asked to be an ambassador for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where he has received all of his treatments. So now he is part of the ongoing campaign for the hospital, making appearances and doing photo shoots and videos on behalf of the hospital. This Saturday, Vince Dunn of the St. Louis Blues gets his day with the Stanley Cup and has chosen to take it to the hospital, where Owen will be a part of the celebration. He’ll also be speaking on behalf of the hospital at Zach Hyman Celebrity Classic July 29, which donates some of its proceeds to the hospital’s foundation. And he’ll be playing in the event. In fact, Owen dispensed with his cane in early June and has played about 10 rounds of golf. “He can hit the ball a ton, but like a lot of kids, he needs a little more patience around the greens,” Chris said. “His old man can still beat him, but not for long.”
What won’t be coming soon is a permanent return to the ice. Owen was drafted in the sixth round by the Oshawa Generals, who don’t project him to even have a crack at their lineup until the 2020-21 season. Owen is expected to finish his final chemotherapy session in mid-August, which is three weeks ahead of schedule and will allow him to enrol in high school in the fall and continue his education. It is still a long road back to good health. He is scheduled to help with Ranger’s hockey camp for defensemen later this summer and several midget teams have talked about the possibility of putting him on their roster as an affiliated player with the hopes he might be able to play by the end of the season, but the focus for now is a full recovery.
Things are looking good for Owen Brady. The side effects of chemotherapy have been minimal, with the exception of him losing all his hair. That has proved to be a stark reminder of how serious the situation is and how lucky Owen is to be on the road to a recovery.
“You go into his room in the morning and you see him with no hair and, for a moment, you kind of get upset when you see him like that,” Chris said. “You see your own kid objectively like that and it’s a bit of a shocker. He’s been through a lot.”
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.