Eddie Klein’s journey from cancer patient to senior ice hockey captain at St. Joseph’s Regional (Montvale, N.J.) got a boost from an unexpected phone call from an unlisted number in Pennsylvania.
We’ll let J.J. Conrad in this wonderful feature for The Bergen Record.explain the Dec. 21 telephone conversation:
“I’m just thinking, ‘A Canadian in Pittsburgh? Like, what?’ ” said the bald-headed Klein, 17. “Then he goes, ‘It’s Mario Lemieux.’
“I couldn’t believe it.”
Lemieux, of course, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — the same diagnosis that Klein received in October — in 1993, following the sixth of his 10 NHL All-Star selections as a member of the Penguins. He returned two months after announcing he had the disease, tallying a goal and an assist on the day of his final radiation treatment. He shared his story with Klein, via Conrad:
“We just talked about how he’s been through this and how it hasn’t affected his life negatively in any way,” said Klein, whose travel coach is a scout for the junior team that Lemieux’s son plays for. “He has a couple of kids, a beautiful wife [and] he’s living healthy and happy. He said if I ever needed anything to let him know.”
Sure enough, exactly three months after Klein’s diagnosis, he had the port in his chest removed and was cleared to play, returning for his first shift in a 5-1 win over rival Paramus (N.J.) Catholic — a remarkable recovery worthy of The Magnificent One’s praise.
Klein discovered lumps in his neck last July, according to The Bergen Record. Three months later, he was diagnosed with the disease. He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy treatment at Hackensack University Medical Center, the feature said.
The biggest difference is under his helmet. Klein’s father once described his son’s hair as “the longest flow at St. Joe’s.” That hair is gone now, but he is not complaining.
Upon Lemieux’s return to the ice, the Penguins won an NHL record 17 straight games. If Klein’s St. Joseph’s squad goes on a similar run, he’ll cap his prep career with a state title.