There were still 45 minutes to go before the puck dropped between the Vancouver Giants and Kamloops Blazers at Pacific Coliseum Friday night but North Vancouver's Melanie Thrower needed to get to ice level immediately.
She had to be there to see her son Dalton emerge from that particular dressing room for the first time ever wearing a Vancouver Giants jersey. The scene took her back to the days when young Dalton and his brother Josh would wait at that very spot to see the Giants of seasons past hurtle through the gate, knock the pucks onto the freshly pressed ice surface and go for a rip around the rink.
"When they were growing up we brought them to all the Giants games and they stood by the tunnel and they watched all the big guys come out," said Melanie as the Giants and Blazers finished their pregame routines. "To actually stand there and watch our own son come out of that tunnel was pretty exciting."
And how does Dalton look in Vancouver's slick new black sweater? "Love it," she said.
There's a lot of love to go around for the Thrower family on this night as Melanie is joined by her husband Murray and daughter Danae, 11, to watch the Giants put on a show in a 5-1 win over the Blazers with Dalton, a 19-year-old defenceman, scoring the game winning goal on a power play slap shot midway through the second period.
Dalton's goal gives him seven points in seven games with the Giants. This is his first home game after being traded to the team from the Saskatoon Blades in the summer. Dalton attended training camp with the Montreal Canadiens - the storied franchise drafted him in the second round in 2012 - but was sent back to Vancouver and immediately named team captain despite never playing a game with the Giants. The win snaps an eight-game losing streak for the Giants and the team and fans are feeling good.
Happiest of all, no doubt, are Melanie and Murray Thrower. They've both been through incredible battles in the past decade just to get to this point. Along the way, there were no guarantees they'd both make it through to see this moment.
First, it was Melanie, it was breast cancer, and it was bad.
"That was a tough go," said Murray. "The kids were little. I think Dalton was 10 at the time." With aggressive treatment, however, Melanie fought for her life and has been cancer free the past seven years.
Then came a moment that was both a huge life highlight and a bit of a downer for Murray and Melanie. After stellar seasons with the North Shore Winter Club and Vancouver Northwest Giants, Dalton was drafted into the Western Hockey League by the Saskatoon Blades.
"It's a day you dream about, you look forward to it, and then reality sets in when your 15-year-old is moving away from home," said Murray.
Dalton, however, flourished in Saskatoon and became a big part of a Blades team that set its sights on winning the Memorial Cup. Then came more devastating news. Cancer. Again.
This time it was Murray, bowel cancer, and Dalton was more than 1,500 kilometres away. Dalton flew home right away to be with his family as Murray underwent surgery and started his own long fight against the disease. As luck would have it the Blades were scheduled to play the Giants in Vancouver that very week so Dalton stayed at home with his family and then joined his Saskatoon teammates for the game. There was also an unexpected fan in the stands for the game.
"My buddy broke me out of the hospital two days post surgery to come watch the game," said Murray. "It's probably something I shouldn't have done but the doctor was on board when he found out the circumstances."
Then came a very tough moment for the family. Should Dalton return to his team or should they find a way to keep him home? It's a moment that still causes deep reflection for both Murray and Melanie.
"We talked about it and (Dalton) really struggled with the decision," said Murray.
"We didn't want to upset his life," added Melanie. "Everything was going good for him. We just kind of wanted things to stay the same, he seemed pretty happy where he was. It's a hard topic to touch on, really."
Hindsight, however, is clear.
"I think, doing it all over again, he would want to be home," said Murray. "If he had to make that decision again. And if we had to make it for him... ."
But Dalton did go back to Saskatoon. Murray, meanwhile, has made it through his treatments so far but they are ongoing.
"Everything is going well," he said about his condition.
The same could be said about Dalton's hockey career. More than 20 friends and family were on hand in Pittsburgh to see him get drafted by the Canadiens. This season he was hoping to play pro hockey but the Habs had no roster spots open for a 19-year-old and so he was sent down. Dalton seriously considered going to Hamilton to play with Montreal's American Hockey League affiliate but instead chose to play one more year of junior. This time Murray and Melanie seemed to be much more involved in the decision
"I'll be completely honest - I hoped for this," said Murray. "I know he wanted to go pro... ."
"I wasn't sure if I should say that," said Melanie with a laugh. "I've been keeping my lips sealed."
"He wanted to go pro," continued Murray. "I don't know if I was doing it selfishly but I had convinced myself that this would be the best thing for his development. In convincing him of that I convinced myself. His goal is to play in the NHL, not the AHL."
If Dalton was not going to play in the NHL this season, he should definitely be here helping the home team, helping the family and, most of all, helping himself, said Murray.
"This is by far the next best thing (to the NHL). It's a 1A and a 1B. It's a chance for him to be playing in his hometown and to have the captaincy.... I feel that this year could be the best thing that ever happened to him for his hockey career."
It's one of the best things that's happened to the family too. This fall Danae told her parents she doesn't even remember the days when Dalton was home year-round. She was six when he left for Saskatoon. Now she's at every home game.
"She's here donning the Giants colours with his name on the back," said Melanie. "She's his biggest fan."
Dalton lives in Ladner where the Giants train but he's back home a lot now, including before every home game for a pre-game meal. It's this return of a ritual that might be the biggest thrill of all for a veteran hockey mom.
"You get into a routine with kids in hockey," said Melanie. "The mom's job is you do the pre-game meals, you make sure all the gear is ready. And then when they go away you realize that somebody else's mom is actually doing that for them. To me it's pretty exciting - now he comes to our home because we live so close. He comes to our place now for the pre-game meals so I get everything ready. It feels like I'm part of his life again."
Whatever she fed Dalton on this Friday evening certainly did the trick. The captain, named the game's third star after the win over Kamloops, was the focus of attention for reporters after the game.
"It was a huge relief to score my first goal here in front of a bunch of family and friends," Dalton said outside the dressing room.
He was even pulled aside for a quick interview over the arena loudspeakers.
"It's lots of fun," he said of suiting up for the hometown team. "I'm just going to roll with it this year. It's good to be back home. I was away for a couple of years there in Saskatoon but to finish off here in Vancouver is special."
He can't stay for a long chat about cancer and career choices though - there are 60 friends and family from his hometown of Squamish and from North Vancouver, where the family has lived the past six years, who are waiting to celebrate his triumphant Vancouver debut. Most importantly, there are two proud parents who are still here and loving every moment of it.
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The whole family will be reunited tonight when the Giants host the Calgary Hitmen. Little brother Josh grew up to be an elite player himself and he's now playing for Calgary. Puck drop is 7 p.m. at Pacific Coliseum.
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