For most elite young defensemen, getting hit by a slapshot in the left shin is a fairly commonplace occurrence. But when you’re playing your first hockey game in almost 21 months and that shin just happens to be the same one from which a cancerous tumor was removed, well that’s enough to make any teenager’s heart skip a beat.
It’s also a cause for triumph for 17-year-old Owen Brady, whose promising career was blindsided by a cancer diagnosis in November of 2018. What started as an innocuous bump on his left shin while he was playing AAA midget hockey that he had checked at a walk-in clinic, resulted in an osteosarcoma diagnosis and a 19-hour surgical procedure in which the tumor was removed and his shin was reconstructed. That was followed by months of energy-sapping chemotherapy at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, a regimen that ended, ironically, one year ago yesterday. Through it all, Brady worked to get back into shape, was drafted by the Oshawa Generals in the sixth round in 2019 and continued to chase his dream.
That dream took an enormous step Friday morning when Owen Brady played in a game for the first time since his diagnosis, playing defense for the Whitby Fury in a junior showcase tournament in Toronto. Brady’s team lost 7-3 and he was minus-1 with an assist. And it wasn’t long before that leg was tested. “In the second period, I blocked a shot with my knee,” Brady said. “Got a nice bruise-slash-scar on top of my scar. But it’s all good.”
It’s all good indeed. The past 21 months have run the gamut of emotions for Brady and his family as they’ve navigated their way through his recovery. Prior to his diagnosis, Brady was a top young defenseman in the province and was a shoo-in to be drafted in the first two rounds of the 2019 Ontario League draft. But after the diagnosis derailed his season and left so much uncertainty about his future, Brady was drafted in the sixth round by the Generals. And along the way, the journey has been altered. After preparing for years to play in the OHL, Brady is now considering his options. So instead of trying to make the Generals in what will undoubtedly be a truncated season, Brady has decided he’ll either play his final midget season for the Oshawa Jr. Generals or, possibly, at the Jr. A level in the Ontario Jr. A League. It wasn’t what he would have envisioned for his NHL draft year, but his dream didn’t die because of this. It merely took a different route.
You’d think that a kid who has endured what Brady has would be reflective about stepping onto the ice for the first time. But he actually didn’t see it as a watershed moment, which says a lot about how stoically he has handled the situation. “I don’t really think about it too much because I’m just a normal kid now,” he said. “I don’t really think about it. I just think about what I have to do to get better and make the right play in the moment.”
And isn’t that wonderful? For the first time in two years, Owen Brady has been able to focus on hockey. He talked more about closing defensive gaps in his first game than he did about how he felt playing it. After months of a life dominated by hospitals and medical procedures and crutches and rehabilitation, Brady can finally go to the rink feeling normal.
It’s hard to predict what the future holds for Owen Brady. And it’s impossible to measure how much development he has missed and whether he’ll be able to make it up. But he’s back on the ice, giving himself a chance. And that’s something to celebrate. On the first anniversary of the end of his chemo treatments, Brady put together a video montage the included photographs he took of himself every Monday over the past year. Take a look: