Two wishes come true on same day for young Canadiens fan, Ingersoll's Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker had a super day on Sunday, one he and his family will never forget.
The 16-year-old from Ingersoll, Ont., is a huge Canadiens fan and got to watch his favourite team beat the Ottawa Senators 4-1 on his first visit to the Bell Centre. Tucker, who received a leukemia diagnosis when he was 11, was a guest of the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and watched the game from a private loge operated by the Montreal Canadiens Children's Foundation along with his father, Mike, and mother, Christine.
Tucker, who has been in remission for a year and a half, was treated at the Children's Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario. During his three-and-a-half-year battle with cancer of the blood cells, there was a period when Tucker would go through 24 consecutive hours of chemotherapy. It was during this time that Tucker told the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada he would love to attend a Canadiens game.
His wish came true on Sunday.
Tucker is also a big Philadelphia Eagles fan, so after watching the Canadiens beat the Senators, he returned to the downtown hotel room the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada provided for his family to watch his favourite football team beat the New England Patriots 41-33 in the Super Bowl.
Two wishes coming true on the same day.
“You can’t ask for much more of a better day," Tucker said Monday morning in the lobby of the hotel while wearing a baseball cap with the CH logo and a white Alex Galchenyuk Canadiens sweater.
Tucker has a fascination with team logos and thought the Eagles logo was really cool, which is how he became a big fan of the NFL team about three years ago. But his connection to the Canadiens runs much longer and deeper.
Tucker's father, who is a business and economics professor at Fanshawe College in London, Ont., still remembers the day he became a Canadiens fan himself.
“I can boil it down to a game on Hockey Night in Canada in 1977 or 1978," the father recalled. "They beat Toronto 6-3, Steve Shutt had a hat trick and I just jumped on the bandwagon. That was it.”
The father's love for the Canadiens was then passed on to his son. When the Canadiens' AHL farm team was in Hamilton, the father and son used to make the 45-minute drive together from their home to watch players like Max Pacioretty with the Bulldogs. On Sunday, Tucker wore his Pacioretty Canadiens sweater to the Bell Centre.
While Tucker was in hospital, he would watch the Canadiens play on TV with his father.
"The Canadiens were his and my escape," the father said. "For three hours, we didn’t worry about him. That playoff run in 2014 (to the Eastern Conference final), you forgot about things … you just forgot about (the leukemia). People get cynical with professional sports at times, but it is an escape. It’s an escape from your day-to-day realities, and that was the great thing for Mark.”
Tucker's father said doctors were "cautiously optimistic" when his son's leukemia was first diagnosed, but it still hit the family very hard.
“It wasn’t the first time cancer hit our family and you just go: 'Wow! Really? My child? Like no!' " the father said. "The first phase is shock and anger, and then after that you become bullheaded about it and say we’re going to overcome this and move on.
“Thank God for the medical system in our country," he added. "In other parts of the world, this would have been much worse on a lot of other levels, financial and whatnot."
Tucker's father offered some advice for other parents who might unfortunately find themselves in similar circumstances with their children.
“I think everyone’s going to react differently," he said. "It’s one of those things where you just have to trust the medical professionals and then get yourself into a mindset that you can get through it. I don’t care if that mindset is religious-based or just arrogantly confident. Just tell yourself you’re going to get through it. Find escapes ... find ways to not have to think about it 24 hours a day. The Montreal Canadiens gave my son and I a three-hour escape every few days and it was great. Win or lose, it was great.”
Tucker's advice for other kids in similar circumstances to where he was: “Just keep pushing through. It will get better.”
Tucker had to quit playing hockey after he got sick, but is hoping to play again next season. On Tuesday, he will attend the Canadiens' practice in Brossard with his parents before heading back home on Wednesday.
While Tucker's father was telling his son's story Monday morning, there were times his eyes would start to fill with tears and other times when his smile would light up the lobby.
“This weekend in some ways is just a fitting end to that chapter of his life," the father said. "He got his wish and we can just say: 'Let’s move on now.' What a way to finish it up.”