Prayers, well-wishes, and donations are pouring in for the family of Milton Academy hockey player Jake Thibeault, who suffered a severe injury on the ice over the weekend that left him unable to move from the waist down.
“Jake is tough, is overflowing with grit and is determined to walk again,” said Thibeault’s father, Michael Thibeault of Fitchburg, in a Facebook posting Monday. “But he is scared beyond belief. Losing hockey and his dream of playing collegiately, which we now know for certain was happening, is soul crushing for him. But he accomplished a lot doing what he loves and deserves praise for it.”
Todd Bland, Milton Academy’s head of school, voiced support for the younger Thibeault in a statement Tuesday.
“We are all pulling for Jake Thibeault, a dedicated, courageous, and beloved member of the Milton Academy community,” Bland said. “We remain in close contact with Jake and his family, and will continue to support his recovery journey.”
Jake, an 18-year-old senior, suffered a spinal cord injury Saturday in a collision on the ice, fracturing two vertebrae that caused paralysis from the waist down and a small brain bleed, according to a statement posted to the Greg Hill Foundation, which is operating an online fund-raiser for the Thibeaults that Michael Thibeault linked to on his Facebook page.
“Jake and his family will need help and support as Jake starts to recover from his injuries,” said the foundation, which had raised more than $20,000 for the injured teen’s care as of Tuesday morning.
Steve Lowney, who coached Jake during his sophomore year on the combined Fitchburg High School and Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School team before Jake transferred to Milton, said Tuesday that his former player was always a joy to coach.
“He was a budding leader,” Lowney said in a telephone interview. “It really hits you pretty hard.”
Jake’s parents told WCVB-TV outside UMass Memorial Medical Center, where their son is being treated, that he was injured during an Eastern Alliance Kickoff tournament Saturday in Hopedale, where he was playing with the Boston Bulldogs, another team that he’s on.
Video posted to the website LiveBarn and uploaded by WCVB shows Jake skating with the puck until he collides with an opposing player, with the impact sending him into the boards.
“We rushed out on the ice,” Michael Thibeault told the station. “He was like that [on the ground] for five minutes. It was, without a doubt, the hardest part of my life I’ve had to experience.”
Kevin Lizotte, a former youth hockey coach of Jake’s, launched a second fund-raising appeal on GoFundMe, which the elder Thibeault also linked to via Facebook. That fund-raiser had brought in more than $191,000 as of Tuesday morning.
“He is so much bigger than words,” Lizotte wrote of his former player. “For those who don’t know Jake, let me try. What makes Jake an outstanding hockey player has less to do with skills and skating and so much more to do with character. Jake is among the most dedicated, hard working student athletes. He has more grit and perseverance than most 18 year old’s.”
All money raised from the appeal, Lizotte continued, will go toward Jake’s rehabilitation needs, medical costs, and related expenses.
Lizotte said in a phone interview Tuesday that he’s been in constant contact with the Thibeault family since Saturday, and that Jake’s supporters have been a regular presence in the visitors’ lobby of the hospital.
“He’s still finding the strength and energy to FaceTime his friends and the people who are supporting him,” Lizotte said. “As hard as it is, he has a smile on his face. If you know Jake, he’s going to grind through whatever life throws at him. ... He’s going to wake up and have a purpose every day. It may be a new purpose, a different purpose, but nothing will surprise me with Jake Thibeault.”
Matt Brown, a former Norwood High School hockey player who suffered a paralyzing injury on the ice in 2010 at the age of 15, also tweeted out support for the younger Thibeault on Tuesday.
“Hang in there, Jake!” tweeted Brown, who’s coauthored a book about his experience and who also started the Matt Brown Foundation, which works to support people who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries. “You got this. #NeverQuit.”
Michael Thibeault said in his Facebook posting Monday that his son was poised to captain his hockey team this season at Milton Academy, and he thanked head coach Paul Cannata for his support.
“Paul has called Jake the greatest kid on earth,” Michael Thibeault wrote. “We love this man and couldn’t have navigated where we are right now without him.” Thibeault concluded his post by addressing his son directly, telling him he’ll always be a great hockey player despite his injury.
“One day you will be back on the ice in one form or another,” he wrote. “For all the coaches over the years we thank each and every one of you for helping him get closer to his dream. He may have missed achieving his dream by the thinnest of slivers but in our eyes he made it. Now it’s time for him to create new dreams to chase!!!”