In terms of his future in hockey, this is a crucial season for Cape Breton Screaming Eagles defenseman Adam McCormick. This is his draft year, where scouts will dissect his game, get to know him as a person and ultimately decide if they want him to be a part of their NHL franchise’s next generation.
Right now, the young blueliner is seen as a mid-to-late rounder with a game akin to Alex Goligoski. He’s not big, but he’s got great feet and a good stick.
“I like to take care of my own end first,” he said. “I like to join the rush and make a good first pass.”
But this has also been an incredibly important year for Adam off the ice. His mother, Audrey, has been afflicted by bronchiectasis since 2008.
Audrey, an early childhood educator, first developed the disease in 2008. A brutal affliction that affects the tiny hairs in the lungs that sweep away dirt and mucus, bronchiectasis creates a vicious cycle of infection, while also stretching the airways and creating pockets that attract more germs. There is no cure.
By 2014, things were getting dire for Audrey. She was on oxygen and couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without assistance. “Her body was breaking down,” said husband Andrew McCormick. “She lost a lot of weight.”
Eventually it was decided that Audrey would need a double-lung transplant and the family began the arduous preparations that all of that entailed. Soon after, Adam was selected by the Screaming Eagles in the third round of the 2016 QMJHL draft. He made the team out of training camp, but then he had a huge decision on his hands. His hometown of Woodstock, New Brunswick was seven hours away from Cape Breton. He called Screaming Eagles GM Marc-Andre Dumont and told him that he wasn’t sure if he could do it. The back-up option was to play for the Jr. A Woodstock Slammers back home.
But the Screaming Eagles made their pitch to the McCormicks and promised to be as helpful as they could during such a turbulent time.
“I credit Marc-Andre and the team,” Andrew said. “They jumped right on this.”
Adam decided to make the commitment to Cape Breton and the franchise would end up filming a public service announcement for organ donations, featuring Adam in English and Dumont in French.
Adam’s rookie season was pretty decent in Cape Breton – he registered 21 points in 51 games and the team made it to the second round of the playoffs. He won the team's humanitarian of the year award and all the while, he kept tabs on his family back in New Brunswick, checking in on his mom’s status.
“I was always thinking about her and talking to her,” he said.
It was a lot for a teenager to deal with, but as his father noted, Adam was up to the challenge.
"He stepped up," Andrew said. "He takes care of us, more or less."
This season, the Screaming Eagles have taken a hit in the standings, but are still in a playoff spot. McCormick’s buddy Drake Batherson, the Ottawa Senators pick and Canadian world junior star, was traded before the deadline to powerhouse Blainville-Boisbriand. Adam has already surpassed his offensive totals from his rookie season and scouts have been impressed by the way he has handled the obvious stress surrounding his mom.
“If anything, it has elevated his play,” said one scout. “That’s given me another level of respect for him.”
This year has also been huge for the McCormicks. To put Audrey in the best possible situation for a transplant, she and Andrew (who works in sales in the manufacturing industry) moved to Toronto. They rented out their house in Woodstock in order to pay for the trip and Adam’s 20-year-old sister Molly moved in with her aunt.
On Dec. 1, the couple moved to Canada’s largest metropolis with hope in their hearts. Audrey was listed for the transplant at Toronto General Hospital on Dec. 5 and the family began to wait. For a transplant to work, a donor would need to match both Audrey’s blood type and lung size. A timeline was tough to nail down, but Audrey was game.
“She’s the epitome of grit,” Andrew said. “Strong as can be, never asks for anything.”
On Dec. 14, Adam was on the road in Prince Edward Island with the Screaming Eagles. He was unloading the bus in preparation for a game the next day against the Charlottetown Islanders when his cell phone rang. He’s usually more of a texting kinda kid, but the call from his dad needed to be heard out loud: “Mom’s got new lungs.”
A donor had been found. What could have taken months or even years happened in less than two weeks. “It was definitely a great Christmas present,” Adam said. “It was very unexpected. We’re blessed and very thankful.”
And the timing could not have been better: Adam and Molly were scheduled to come to Toronto during the Christmas break anyway, so the family was reunited as Audrey recovered from the operation. As Audrey recuperates through physiotherapy in Toronto, Adam continues his draft season in Cape Breton. Being able to compartmentalize his life has been a huge positive for the youngster.
“For Adam to play and compete the way he has is unbelievable,” said his agent, Chad Levitt. “To be able to stay focused on not only hockey, but school – there’s so much pressure on these players that are draft eligible.”
No matter what happens at the draft in Dallas this summer, this season has been a win for Adam and the entire McCormick clan. Audrey has a new lease on life and for father Andrew, the whole process has hammered home the importance of organ donation.
“The more educated people are, the better,” he said. “There are people dying from coast to coast.”
Once the physio is done, the McCormicks will leave Toronto and head back to Woodstock where hopefully, normalcy will return for the first time in years. That will knock off the last item on Andrew’s wish list:
“Going home,” he said. “We’re ready for that.”