I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the kindness you have shown since the injury to Joe last Friday.
There have been a lot of tears since then and I am happy to say not all of them have been of sadness. Some of them have come while reading the thoughts and prayers of everyone, the “Get Well Joe” messages and the campaign about the blue and gold ribbons. It is truly heartwarming to read the things people have said about Joe. Some from people who have not seen him play but felt compelled to offer their support. Others from those who did see him and, I know now, knew just how much he has meant to the Merrimack team and program.
We never thought when the ribbon campaign began last Saturday that it would extend beyond the Warriors’ season. There was a feeling then that we wanted to do something to show each other an outward sign of hope and support. All of the hundreds of ribbons that were made last Saturday were given out and there were not enough to go around. To read and hear now of people from other schools planning to keep it going, around the country even, is just amazing.
But I should have known better. I always knew the hockey community was a special one. It has been shown time and time again. We will never forget it and it gives us strength beyond what you can imagine.
I know a lot of people may not know much about Joe, and may not have seen him play or even pictures of him. We have put together a photo album from this year. Please feel free to take a look and pass the link on.
Joe is a terrific player — of that there is no doubt. He has worked hard to make himself so. When others did not believe in him, he believed in himself. After Cushing, where he backstopped one of the top prep teams in history, many Division I coaches thought it was the team that made him what he was.
Joe contacted many coaches, who turned him down. He finally convinced Chris Serino that he could be a great goalie at this level. Chris says that Joe was so insistent that he finally had to give him a chance, especially after Joe pointed to a brick wall and told him he would run through it for Chris if he had to.
From the moment Joe stepped on the ice for his first game three years ago, we knew he would be a good player. What we quickly learned was that he would also be a tremendous leader. Even back then we knew he would captain the team someday. But we could not have imagined the impact he would have.
If you ask anyone around Merrimack, they will tell you that Joe is the main reason why the team did so much better than expected this year. But what we talk about has much more to do with him as a person than a player.
He did have a tremendous year, including setting the school record for saves in a season — his last save in his last game set the new record. But more than that, he inspires his teammates to be better players and people. He has always preached team-first, and he practices what he preaches. He leads by example on and off the ice. He believes when others do not and he gets them to believe.
When Joe was elected captain he went to work preparing for this season, and he worked on it all summer. He talked with other captains, pro players and coaches. He studied up on great leaders in sports history. He put together handbooks — “The Bible” — for the returning and incoming players, explaining what would be expected of them, and what they would need to do individually and as a team. He called every player and spoke with them. He never talked about wins and losses. Instead, he said his goal was to lay a foundation from which future teams could build.
It was never more evident than in the team’s last game without him that he has done that. For those of us who were watching, we had the unexplainable feeling that he was still there with them somehow.
Sometimes you have a guy who is simply an outstanding player. Other times you have one who is a terrific leader, one everyone looks up to and follows. When you have both of those things in one, you have a very special player. That is what Joe is.
Joe loves college hockey so much. The atmosphere, camaraderie, everything. When he began his playing career at Merrimack, however, he had to prepare his parents for what to expect. He told his mom that people were going to chant all kinds of things at him, like “sieve.” “It’s part of the game … Don’t worry, it’s okay,” he said.
I asked Joe earlier this year what his plans are for next year and he said he wants to play and then get into coaching — he is already thinking about that. He will be a great coach someday and I would feel fortunate to have my children play for him. I know anyone who plays for him will learn a lot, not just about the game but about life.
What we believe — have to believe — will carry Joe through this is that he is such a strong person. His family is the same way. The admiration and respect I have for them is great and I know we are all learning something from them. They are tremendously kind and giving people and I can see this is where Joe gets it. Recently we were talking about the nightclub fire in Rhode Island, where they are from, and about a relative of mine who lost his life in that tragedy. The next night Joe’s mom brought me a newspaper that had an article about him. I couldn’t believe she even remembered his name. But that is how they are.
Joe and his family are going through such a tough battle right now. I know they are drawing on the support of everyone and that it will help get them through it. Please know that it means more than you can imagine, and that when they hear about all of the things you are doing to show support, it brings smiles to their faces.
Also please know that Joe is in very good hands and the doctors are doing all they can. Joe’s family are quiet, private people and all of the attention given to his case does overwhelm them at times, as I am sure would be the case with any of us.
Although I know everyone is concerned and wishes for updates as often as possible, this is a process that will take time and does not lend itself easily to regular updates. It does not mean nothing is being done, however. I know that when there is news that can be shared by the family, it will, and as soon as possible.
What is most important is to know that Joe is still in serious condition and still very, very much needs our thoughts and prayers.
Please continue to keep Joe in your thoughts and prayers, and thank you again so much for all you have done already. We hope and believe that Joe will win this battle, like others he has already won in his life — and that he will come back to us, and we will have so many wonderful stories of love and support to tell him.
That day will come soon. I know it will.
USCHO.com’s Mike Machnik has been color commentator for Merrimack hockey radio since 1991.