Note: This story was written by TGG founder Justin Goldman for OctoberSaves.org
Even though I was meeting Wyatt Anderson for the first time, all I wanted to do was reach out and give him a giant sappy hug. I didn’t even care about the awkwardness that would’ve ensued, because at that moment, the only thing that mattered to me was showing the whole world how happy I was to see him.
“I know it wasn’t an easy choice, but I’m so pumped you made it,” I said in a warm and brotherly tone. “How are you handling the altitude so far?”
I thought I was committed to the hug, but I veered off into a more formal handshake at the last second.
“I’m feeling a little drained, but it’s not too bad,” he said, shaking my hand in return.
Wyatt was visibly tired from his trip to Colorado, having just endured the one-two punch of an early flight and then a two-hour shuttle ride from the Denver airport. His final destination? The picturesque mountain town of Breckenridge, home to the highest-elevated hockey rink in the country at 9,800 feet. That’s quite the drastic climb in a short amount of time from his hometown of Everett, Washington, so I fully expected it to take a toll on the young and intrepid traveler.
“No worries at all, man. It’s your first time in Colorado,” I reassured. “The biggest thing is to just make sure you’re drinking enough water. If you start getting dizzy, just let me know.”
There was so much more I wanted to say to him on a personal level, so much more I wanted to do to let him know I cared, but this was clearly not the time or the place.
As the recipient of the first-ever October Saves training scholarship, Wyatt was selected to attend the 2018 Rocky Mountain Mentorship Camp. Run by The Goalie Guild, this program brought 16 goalie prospects together with a handful of pro goalie coaches from North America and Europe in order to create a memorable and inspiring summer training experience.
So while the trip to Breckenridge definitely had its merits, the real story behind Wyatt’s connection to October Saves starts and ends with his mother, Barbara.
When Wyatt initially received his scholarship in late-January, Barbara had already been bravely fighting colon cancer for over three years.
During her battle, Wyatt’s life wasn’t what you’d consider easy. He was forced to split time between divorced parents that lived 200 miles apart, on top of dealing with the typical teenage stresses of school and a growing social life. When the emotional toll of his mother’s diagnosis set in and her cancer reached Stage 4, there were fears beyond the norm and waves of anxiety rising to the surface.
Of course, there were plenty of good days, too. In fact, when Barbara got the news that Wyatt earned the scholarship, she was feeling good enough to join her son for a little mountain retreat of her own.
“First off, THANK YOU! This is such a wonderful opportunity and Wyatt can’t WAIT to get there!” Barb said in our first email exchange. “I will be traveling with Wyatt and I’d like to stay at the same lodge. Does he stay with me or does he already have accommodations? Either way is fine, I just need to know what kind of room to book.”
Even though Barb was in Hospice at the time, Wyatt’s father, Tim, still went out and booked her tickets. So she wasn’t just ‘hoping’ to make it. She was going to Colorado, no questions asked.
Truth be told, hockey was Wyatt’s life and Wyatt’s happiness was Barb’s life. The bond they had built as a result was unbreakable, even with the divorce and the distance between her and Tim. I even heard stories from Tim about how, despite cancer, she still aced the ‘Hockey Mom’ role. She not only handled the typical duties like taking him to practices and games, but on some special occasions, she even took Wyatt to Silvertips games, which only added more fuel to his fiery passion for goaltending.
“Wyatt had a hard time really getting into any sport before he found hockey,” Tim explained. “But once he started playing goalie, he fell in love with it and soon realized he was pretty good at it. He never bragged, but he felt confident playing the position.”
As time went on and Wyatt’s skills improved, he eventually landed a spot in the Junior Silvertips organization, a treat that provided the entire family with a huge morale boost. From there, it didn’t take long for his team to rally around Barbara’s battle. That included his goalie coach, Tony Cappocchi, who reached out to us and formally applied for the October Saves training scholarship in Wyatt’s name.
Tony’s virtuous act left a strong impression on the October Saves board, and when the selection was made official, it was Tony who received the notification. That means the scholarship came mostly as a surprise to Barb, who started counting down the days and making sure all the arrangements were squared away. To say she was hyped wouldn’t do it justice; she was euphoric.
But less than two weeks before the trip, Barbara succumbed to the cancer and passed away.
After everything Wyatt went through, nobody forcing him to fly to Colorado, nor would anyone think any less of him if he stayed in Everett. As a staff, out of respect for his loss and in order to signify what the October Saves scholarship stood for, we were fully prepared to run the mentorship camp with 15 goalies and then find another camp for him to attend later in the summer.
In spite of all that, Wyatt still got on that plane and flew to Colorado. It spoke volumes about the love he had for his mom, who genuinely wanted her son to use those tickets, even if she had to miss it.
I did my best to support Wyatt with as much sensitivity as possible. I didn’t want to push the wrong buttons or say something that would’ve triggered a negative response. I just wanted to give him a positive training experience and help get his mind off things for a few days. Instinctually, I’ve learned through my years of mentoring goalies that sometimes it’s not what you say, but what you don’t say. Letting them have some time and space to figure things out on their own can work wonders for their ability to cope and process. Say too much too soon or baby them, and you risk the potential of driving them further away.
I say this now because I truly believe the world has a special way of putting different kinds of symbols and signs directly in our paths. Sometimes it’s OK to allow those who are coping with a loss or searching for some kind of purpose the time they need to discover those hidden signs and answers on their own.
So even though Wyatt didn’t say much during his three short days in Breckenridge, I could tell he was still picking up on everything. He appeared a little antisocial, but deadly focused on what he was doing on and off the ice. This wasn’t fueled by some type of anger or resentment, either. It was a quiet fire, like when you’re out to prove someone wrong, but don’t care about gloating or stroking your ego when you do it.
Simply put, he handled the whole situation like a champ, and the entire coaching staff recognized it. We fully agreed that if he kept going, he would have a really bright future in hockey.
“He came back from Breckenridge much stronger and a lot faster in the crease,” Silvertips goalie coach Cappocchi said. “I know that whatever they taught him worked. I also think they helped Wyatt stay excited about being a goalie and for that, I’m forever grateful.”
After receiving this feedback from Wyatt’s father and goalie coach, I reflected on it and went back to the first time we met. I imagined Wyatt sitting alone in his condo when he first got there before the other goalies arrived. Maybe that’s the moment when he made a certain conscious choice. He could either continue to drown in the darkness of his mother’s passing and watch this mentorship camp pass him by, or he could fulfill her desire for him to attend and embrace the camp, and get busy stopping some pucks.
“Having that scholarship experience was invaluable to Wyatt,” Cappocchi said. “As a child, it can be difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one, especially to cancer. But October Saves kept him excited about playing hockey and in the end, it really helped his game.”
When you connect with a group of peers — those you truly enjoy associating with — and you do it in a natural environment conducive to collaborating, sharing, learning and reflecting, it’s not just a luxury, it’s a necessity. That’s what Breckenridge provided Wyatt, and that’s why he thrived. Now more than ever, I truly believe kids that are struggling need these experiences. They need to create more genuine and authentic memories with friends and adults. Especially in today’s world of the ultra-competitive youth sports culture and burnout, I even believe that parents and coaching staffs need them as well.
So it wasn’t necessarily what we taught Wyatt on the ice that made a difference, it was how and in what environment we taught him. Our pristine mountain surroundings were intentionally selected to act as a place of reflection, of creativity, and of full openness. Mistakes were celebrated, new ideas were respected, and every goalie had a voice in the classroom sessions. Ultimately, we wanted the goalies to gain a better understanding of how their sheer passion for the game can open up all kinds of new and exciting doors. We didn’t just want them to get better, we wanted them to leave the camp inspired.
I think what resonated most with Wyatt was that stress-free, positive environment. He had ample time to reflect on his life and discover more about himself. We helped him not only design a game plan for the upcoming season, but we also helped him define exactly who he was as a goaltender. We moved at a different pace and approached all 16 goalies with a ‘learner-centered’ approach, meaning we set the stage and provided the tools, but Wyatt and his goalie comrades orchestrated the training sessions.
“He had a great time, loved his coaches, and learned a lot,” Wyatt’s father Tim said. “I have nothing but gratitude for his coaches in Colorado and for organizations like October Saves. Providing the opportunity for kids like him the chance to excel means a lot and I’m forever grateful.”
Now that the new hockey season is underway, I wanted to share Wyatt’s story in order to show the world how our sons and daughters are capable of overcoming anything, no matter the emotional obstacles or the personal losses. I also wanted something to remember Barbara, because I know her story does not exist in a vacuum; all over the world, mothers are battling cancer and their sons and daughters are battling alongside them.
As I was writing this story, something small dropped right in front of me that not only acted as a perfect reminder of Wyatt and Barb’s story but of the entire October Saves mission. What I found was not something big, nor was it tangible. Instead, it was an ideal.
It was her e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Barb’s peace of mind.”
To me, this was one of those special little signs and symbols I mentioned earlier. A simple thing that we often overlook every day, an e-mail address, suddenly had a profound meaning in my life.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “I guess there really is peace of mind in knowing that Wyatt is still living out his goaltending passion. And I guess there is peace of mind knowing that programs like October Saves do exist for kids like Wyatt.”
As I exchanged more emails with Wyatt’s father, I also gained peace of mind when he told me that Barb’s close friends, and all the hockey moms she knew in the Silvertips organization, had actually raised money to help fund her trip to Breckenridge. But after her passing, that money was used to get Wyatt a much-needed new chest protector, as well as a new mask, which he had painted with Barb’s birthdate and a colon cancer ribbon.
But above all of those things, how about the peace of mind Wyatt must have felt, knowing that he didn’t let his mom down?
I’ve only exchanged a few texts with Wyatt since the mentorship camp, but I know he came out the other side a better goalie, and more importantly, more resilient and mature. I think he gained some valuable perspective on what really matters in life; family, friends, and these beautiful things we call relationships.
“Wyatt is truly a team player and loves his team so much that even though he had an opportunity to move up, he decided to stay with his previous team this year,” his father said. “His love for the game made such a strong impression on me that I moved to Everett so he could stay with his coaches and teammates.”
Wyatt’s choice to stay with his hockey family — the ones that rallied to his side before Barb passed away and then showed up as a group to her funeral wearing their Silvertips jerseys — not only showed great leadership and loyalty, it revealed everything he stands for as a goalie and a gifted young man.
“He works hard at the sport and is devoted to it one hundred percent,” Tim added. “Barb was a driving force in his life and for the team. I know she was there with him in Colorado, looking down and smiling.”
One hundred percent devotion to his talent, his teammates, and most importantly, to his mother.
What more could you possibly ask for from a son?