Cancer patient's 1-day pact with Jackets priceless
Thursday, March 26, 2009 3:15 AM
By Tom Reed
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Ryan Salmons hopes to be at tonight's game to fulfill his contract.
The Blue Jackets have added a gritty 19-year-old defenseman to their roster for the playoff push.
The fact that Ryan Salmons won't play a game for the
club is immaterial in the eyes
of general manager Scott
Howson and the Blue Jackets Foundation.
Yesterday afternoon, Howson, along with Salmons' favorite players, Manny Malhotra and Jason Chimera, surprised the terminally ill teenager with a visit to his family's Grove City home.
They extended an unprecedented offer to the former hockey player: a one-day contract complete with a $3 signing bonus.
"It's pretty neat," Salmons said. "The curtain window (in the living room) was open and I saw Manny and Jason coming to the door. It really caught me off guard. But what really surprised me was to see Scotty (Howson). He presented me with the contract. It's really amazing."
The Salmonses have been overwhelmed by the Jackets' generosity since doctors diagnosed Ryan with cancer in April 2008. His father, Brad, however, insists the family hold out for one powerful incentive in the contract -- a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Salmons wants to see his Jackets reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history. They are in sixth place in the NHL's Western Conference with nine games remaining. The top eight teams qualify.
"If it wasn't for them, I don't think Ryan would be here today," his father said. "It's really one of the things he has been holding on to. He wants to go to a Blue Jackets' playoff game."
The Blue Jackets contingent, which included radio announcer George Matthews, foundation executive director Wendy Bradshaw and mascot Stinger, visited the family for about an hour.
A mock news release announcing the contract also was given to the family. In the release, defenseman Marc Methot granted Salmons permission to wear his No. 3 jersey.
"I typically wouldn't give up my number, but it is a small price to add a player like Ryan to our team," Methot said.
Salmons came in contact with the organization last spring when he met former Jackets forward Dan Fritsche at Nationwide Children's Hospital. The Jackets Foundation, a charity that includes pediatric cancer research and treatment among its main causes, routinely sends players to the hospital.
Chimera says teammates are inspired by the resilience and dignity Salmons exhibits in fighting alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that attacks muscle tissue.
Salmons has attended several Jackets games and functions at the team's invitation.
Chimera, who's nursing a groin injury, also has been a frequent guest at Salmons' bedside the past two weeks. He watched the first two periods of Tuesday night's game against Tampa Bay in Salmons' living room.
"Ryan has such a zest for life," Chimera said. "It's gotten to the point where I want to see him as much as I can and I've told my wife that. Anyone who can endure what he's had to endure and do it with a smile on his face is really special."
Salmons, who played for the Hilliard-Southwest hockey program, has lost more than 20 pounds from a once-sturdy 170-pound frame. He fought balance and dexterity issues while ingesting up to 113 pills a week.
The Hilliard Davidson graduate had become a role model and advocate in the pediatric cancer unit, taking time to explain to parents of young patients how the treatments and disease make them feel. Salmons came home from the hospital Monday, though. He is now in hospice care, his father said.
"Right now, it's a tough time," Salmons said. "They have given me a steroid to keep down the swelling on my brain. It's caused some problems and made me more emotional. But we'll figure it out."
With the aid of a walker, Salmons hopes to attend tonight's game in Nationwide Arena.
He wants to see his Jackets and sit among the thousands of fans who have waited eight seasons for a chance to cheer a winner.
He also would like to go over the fine print in his contract.
"I read it over," he said, chuckling. "And I don't see anything about a base salary for the 2008-09 season."