As soon as Owen Nei was born, he was faced with difficult challenges. His diagnosis of hydrocephalus and Goldenhar syndrome, which affects his brain and face, led to more than a dozen surgeries.
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Still, Owen persevered and, by the time he could play sports, fell in love with hockey. He wasn’t expected to be able to play for long, given his physical limitations, but after years spent perfecting his skills, we’re happy to report that isn’t the case at all.
Throughout his hockey career, Owen has been a valuable asset to his team both on and off the ice.
“I couldn’t imagine this team without Owen,” Brennan McMahon, one of Owen’s teammates said. “He always makes me want to play my best game.”
This season has been especially successful for the St. Paul Capitals pee wee team, which was on their way to qualifying for the district tournament. But before that could happen, they had two more games to play, including the last home game of the season… except for Owen, who was about to have his last home game ever.
Because the next level of hockey adds checking to the game, it would be too physical for the 13-year-old. That’s why, when it came time for his last home game ever, teammates, friends, and family went all-out to give him the kind of send-off he deserves.
Best of all, Owen and his family had no idea what was in store for them. When they entered the arena, they were met by a massive crowd, many of whom were holding up signs that read “O-Dawg,” a nickname for Owen.
“I think this is the most people I’ve ever seen at one of my games,” Owen said. “Kind of like a ‘Senior Night’ for pee wee, I guess.”
The atmosphere was likened to that of a high school or college game, giving the St. Paul Capitals all of the support they needed to get them a 9-0 win! To cap off this incredible win, there were two more surprises in store for Owen.
The first came from former Minnesota Wild player Wes Walz who showed up with a gift for Owen on behalf of the team — it was a hockey stick signed by Kirill Kaprizov.
Finally, Mayor Melvin Carter proclaimed February 11th as Owen Nei Day in the city of St. Paul!
“Just the parents, the people that are showing up tonight for his last game, it’s just an amazing community,” Owen’s dad and coach, Chris Nei, said. “I’ve been choked up all day.”
Owen added, “It was the best day of my life.”
Owen’s unforgettable wins wouldn’t end that night. Soon after, him and his team won their last road game, making them qualify for the district tournament, also known as the game they’ve been working toward all year. And with Captain Owen leading the way, they won!
As much as Owen wishes he could continue to play hockey, he doesn’t plan on giving it up entirely. He may not be able to be on the team, but the bond that’s been made between him and his teammates is one that can’t be broken.
“[Hockey] means life,” Owen said. “It means family. It means everything to me. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Share Owen’s story with a friend to encourage them to do what they love, even when it’s hard.
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