Tyler Palmer, 14 of Brookline, Noah Turner, 15, of Clinton and Jacob Bradley, 17 of Missouri are three of five youngsters signed to one-day contracts by Jim Rutherford Saturday. (Dave Geier/Pittsburgh Penguins)
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Even though he’s 15 years old and a freshman at West Allegheny, Noah Turner still has his hockey starter set from when he was 5.
Darnell Turner, Noah’s father, says his son will spend hours in his room, playing knee hockey by himself.
So when the wait for Noah’s Make-a-Wish day was finally over, you could understand why he was more than a little pumped.
Noah Turner, a Clinton native, was one of five youngsters signed to one-day contracts by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford on Saturday before practice at PPG Paints Arena, part of a fun event held in conjunction with Make-a-Wish.
“Crazy, I guess,” was the Noah put it, like the other four blown away by the moment.
“This means so much to us,” Lori Turner, Noah’s mom, said. “It’s exciting. We’ve been waiting two years for Noah to get his wish.”
Noah was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor about two years ago. A couple months later, Lori signed up him through the Make-a-Wish foundation.
A year of chemotherapy kept Noah off the ice for a year before he returned in a non-contact capacity. Now, he plays in three leagues and only stops during the summer.
Noah, whose favorite players are Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin, endures checks every four months. They’ve all been perfect. Soon, it’ll be every six months.
“It’s a big misconception that the kids have to be dying,” said Dana Antkowiak, who’s the marketing communications manager for the local Make-a-Wish chapter. “That’s not true. Really we believe a wish is part of medicine. It impacts kids for the rest of their life. They get to anticipate it, dream about it. Then the day happens. Even though this is just a moment in time, it will forever affect them going forward. We’re so appreciative to the Pens. They’ve put together an amazing day. We’re so excited for them.”
The Palmer family, of Brookline, arrived here Saturday with a similar story.
Tyler Palmer, 14, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago out of the blue. On Easter Sunday, following two baseball games the day before, Tyler couldn’t walk or see.
They spent two weeks in the hospital, 10 days before Tyler could walk.
Seizures came next, although Brian Palmer, Tyler’s dad, said his weekly Avonex shots have helped a great deal.
“This means the world to him,” Brian said. “It’s a special day. It’s taken two years to get here. He hasn’t slept. He’s been talking about it forever now. Once we found out it was actually happening, he was over the moon. He’s been smiling more than I’ve seen lately.”
Tyler Palmer had to give up his favorite position — goaltender — because the MS severely slowed his reaction time. However, he has transitioned to forward and plays hockey year-round.
“It keeps him active and keeps his mind off of it,” Brian said, “which is big.”
The press conference was a mix of jokes and timidity. Jastin “JJ” Darts, 11, trash-talked Jacob Bradley, 17, who traveled here from Missouri. Rutherford joked that their short answers meant they already had the press conference thing down pat.
The boys — 8-year-old Wyatt Hunt was the fifth — got to have breakfast with the players, watch practice from Suite 66 and join them on the ice afterward.
They’ll all attend Sunday’s game against the Panthers, sitting in Sidney Crosby and Malkin’s charity suites.
“For the kids to look up to us and want to be a part of this, it’s motivating,” Crosby said. “It’s something that puts things in perspective as hockey players. We’re fortunate to get to do this and be able to spend time like this with kids that want to be here.”
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