Even if Wade MacLeod doesn’t score a goal with his new Manchester Storm hockey team, he’s already achieved the biggest victory of all.
The 34-year-old left winger from Port Moody beat cancer – not once, not twice, but three times.
And when MacLeod’s doctor gave him the all-clear last November, that the Grade 3 Glioblastoma tumour that had recurred in his head for a third time was completely gone, he knew what he had to do.
“I said from the very beginning that cancer wasn’t going to be the reason I retire from professional hockey,” MacLeod said after a recent workout at Coquitlam’s Planet Ice with his trainer Kai Heinonen and veteran NHLer Brad Hunt.
The fact MacLeod is able to share the ice and keep up with the newly-signed defenceman for the Vancouver Canucks is a testimony to the dedication of getting his career, and life, back on the rails.
Three years ago, MacLeod had to relearn how to walk and speak again after two surgeries to remove a recurring tumour that had reformed in his brain as he prepared to play a third professional season in Germany with Dresden Eislowen.
When MacLeod was diagnosed after having seizures as he moved from Frankfurt, where he’d scored 49 points in 49 games for the second division Lions, he, his wife Karly, and their young daughter, Ava, headed back to Canada for surgery. Two months later, the tumour returned for a third time, and he was under the knife again, to be followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
A GoFundMe fundraising campaign to help the young family get through the tough time raised more than $100,000 from donations wherever MacLeod’s skates had taken him — from Merritt where he played junior hockey with the BC Hockey League’s Centennials, to Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., to minor league teams in Springfield, Mass., Evansville, Ind., Toronto, Boise, Idaho, Allen, Texas, as well as Rosenheim and Frankfurt in Germany.
Some of the money went to MacLeod’s return to health and rehabilitation that was coordinated through Port Moody Integrated Health. Dietary changes, occupational and physical therapy, as well as hyperthermia treatment to kill lingering cancer cells with high heat, all contributed to his battle against the disease that first presented itself in 2013 when he collapsed on the ice during an American Hockey League game in Springfield.
A four-hour operation removed a golf-ball sized tumour from the left side of MacLeod’s brain and, after extensive rehab, he was able to get back on the ice the next season, splitting his time between the Springfield Falcons and the ECHL’s Evansville IceMen.
But the double recurrence of the tumour in 2018 has cost three prime years of MacLeod’s hockey career. Getting back to a place where he feels he can compete again on the ice has taken a lot of work with Heinonen, whose background includes martial arts. The two are together for hours every weekday, either on the ice or in the gym. They use karate to sharpen hand speed, balance and peripheral vision, circuit and core training, as well as visualization.
MacLeod said he feels in the best shape of his life. Earlier this summer, he told his agent he was ready to play again.
But opportunities for an aging minor leaguer who’s been out of the game for three years were limited. Norway or France were possibilities, MacLeod’s agent told him.
It was the Storm of Great Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League that expressed the most interest. The team’s coach, Alberta native Ryan Finnerty, also has a young family and was familiar with MacLeod’s story.
“It all worked out,” MacLeod said of the process that landed him a contract, adding he’ll head to England in about mid-September, then his family that now includes a newborn sister to Ava, will follow a few weeks later.
MacLeod said he’s excited about getting back into a dressing room with teammates, then hitting the ice again with fans in the stands.
“It’s going to be so unreal,” he said. “The biggest thing is never give up on your dreams and always stay positive.”
While MacLeod is hopeful the opportunity he’s being given in Manchester might lead to bigger and better things, he said he already feels he’s accomplished so much.
“I beat cancer.”