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Men's Ice Hockey: The Real MVP

How an eighth grader has become the inspiration for the UNH men’s hockey team

By Melissa Proulx, Staff Writer

With a big turn over from last year and a team full of younger players this season, there’s one youth who really sticks out on the UNH men’s hockey roster.

Andrew Silsby, a 14-year-old from Newfields, New Hampshire, has been on the team roster for two years now, after he was adopted in January of the 2012-2013 season. Along with season tickets to both the home and away games, he has been practicing with the team at least once a week since then, improving his skating skills and helping out to clean up afterwards.

“He’s picking up some jobs around the rink, so they have him put away the sticks; before the game, he throws out the pucks for the guys and brings the hockey helmet out to the net before the game,” said Sue Silsby, Andrew’s mother. “He has a spot here; he can take on some roles other than giving the guys high fives as he gets older, so it’s been really great.”

Head coach Dick Umile, who said one of his favorite things that Andrew does is create an “unbelievable drawing of each game” that they hang up in the locker room, only echoes these words.

“He’s a special kid, and he’s been well received by the team and the coaches,” Umile said, emphasizing the fact that Andrew is part of the team and will continue to be for years to come. “I know it’s a good situation for Andrew, but I think it’s an even better situation for us, especially the players. I think the guys look at him after knowing his story, meeting him, seeing what a good kid he is, how thoughtful he is, and that he puts everything in perspective for them, how fortunate they are to have what they have.”

“Just to see him happy makes me happy,” Umile added.

The middle schooler was matched up with the team thanks to the Friends of Jaclyn program, a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for kids and families who have dealt with pediatric brain tumors, as well as raise awareness for the disease. Stacia Boynton, then a senior family studies and kinesiology major at UNH and now the adoption manager for the organization, was the one who matched Andrew up with the team.

When he was five years old, Silsby was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor known as pilocytic astrocytoma. The slow-growing tumor is often located near the brainstem and is most common in kids or young adults. Two days after it was discovered, he underwent brain surgery and spent the next several months recovering after that in physical and occupational therapy.

Several years out now, Sue Silsby said that her son is “still followed, but he’s in a really good spot” now medically, though there are still some long-term impacts that he will have to deal with, such as issues with his memory, balance and processing information.

Regardless of these struggles, Sue is proud of her son, saying that he has never stopped fighting and continuing to give back. In fact, when he was just 6 years old and had just started up school again, he organized a toy drive at Newfields Elementary School.

“He loves telling his story. I think part of it is very therapeutic for him,” she said. “He’s not ashamed of what happened to him. He started giving back at a really young age.”

For Andrew, he’s loved the opportunities he’s been given and all the memories he’s gained from his once in a lifetime experiences.

“Last year, the team made it to the Hockey East championships at the (TD Garden in Boston) and I got to walk on the ice, go on the bench and go in the locker room before the game,” he said. “It was really cool.”

The team treats the 8th grader as one of their own, even taking him out for special occasions.

“Last year, three of the hockey boys brought me to dinner and bought me a birthday gift,” he said. “They got me a video game [Mario Party 9] for the Wii.”

And from a mother’s perspective, as well as a single parent, Sue is thankful for the opportunities her son has been given from working with the hockey team as well as senior business administration major Matt Doubleday, who has worked with Andrew over the last three years through the Big Brother, Big Sister Program.

“He’s just surrounded by greatness, and it’s just done so much for his self-confidence,” she said. “For me, it’s been such a relief … to have such great role models to be around and they’re really supportive of him.”

Though not necessarily looking forward to beginning high school next year, he is excited to continue his work with the team in the coming years and the plans that he has for himself in the future.

“I really want to do sports management or sports athletic training,” he said. “I’ve been volunteering with the athletic trainers because I’m not good enough to play professional sports, but I like sports, so I want to be apart of them.”

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