Chicago Cougars player Matt Olson, pictured here with Cougars business manager Mike Tompkins, was paralyzed during a game. A hockey tournament at Johnny's IceHouse West is taking place this month to help raise funds for Olson, who lives at the Mayo Clinic complex in Minnesota. [Mike Tompkins]
CHICAGO — Matt Olson's goal is to take down a buck with a crossbow, using nothing but his chin and a few breaths.
Olson, 20, has had a lifelong love of hunting on his grandfather's 60-acre lot of land in Minnesota filled with woods and whitetails. His dream is to bag another trophy — proof that he can overcome a devastating crash into hockey boards that left him paralyzed while playing for the Chicago Cougars on Feb. 21.
"I'm excited to have the opportunity to do something I love," Olson said. "I won't let my injury hold me back from getting outdoors."
Olson is at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and plans to transfer to another therapy center in that state soon, but the love from Chicago hasn't stopped. Nearly $200,000 has been raised for Olson and his family, including fundraisers created by the Blackhawks, and now a Wicker Park couple will be raising money for Olson as part of their upcoming 3-on-3 hockey tournament at Johnny's IceHouse West.
"This kid needs our help and he's going to need care for the rest of his life," said Dylan Martin, who's organizing June 25's Miller Show 3 vs. 3 Tournament with his girlfriend, Brie Montoya.
"The hockey community is such a special community, and we're really just a big family," said Martin, a goalie at Robert Morris University.
Olson has seen evidence of that since his horrific crash into the boards in late February in the Cougars' regular-season finale at Sears Centre. While skating, he lost an edge behind the net and hit the boards.
"When I first got hurt, my mind was racing," Olson said. "Everything was happening so fast, I wasn't sure what was going to happen."
Chicago Cougars defenseman Matt Olson was paralyzed during a game on Feb. 21. [Chicago Cougars]
Olson spent time at Lutheran General Hospital in suburban Park Ridge before transferring to the Mayo Clinic closer to his family. Since the injury, he's seen improvements and can move his right arm forward and backward; he's experienced more limited movement with his left arm as well.
While sitting in his wheelchair, Olson also uses machines that stimulate his muscles like a power-peddling bicycle. He recently started shooting targets with a crossbow powered by his breaths, which stimulate the trigger. A joystick that Olson moves with his chin helps sets the site in the scope. He's hit several bull's-eyes.
"It's going to be a lifelong change with baby steps forward, but forward is better than backwards," said Olson's father, Doug, who spends several days a week staying in his son's room at the clinic.
Martin and Montoya said Olson's courage fits perfectly into the goal of their second-year hockey tournament, which provides aid to "young hockey enthusiasts." The tournament named in honor of Chad Miller, one of Martin's former teammates who died in 2014.
Martin and Montoya have never met Olson, but when they heard his story, they reached out to the Cougars to see how they could help. Cougars business manager Mike Tompkins, who visited Olson on Sunday, said he's been "amazed" by the support the Cougars' defenseman has received.
"It's just overwhelming," Tompkins said. "For them to choose our player Matt Olson [to receive donations for this event], that's the one word I have to say."
Doug Olson said his family is in the process of tearing down their current, 2½-story home and building a one-story residence that's more wheelchair accessible. That project, along with the rehabilitation, possible surgeries and other medical bills, could cost millions of dollars.
Doug Olson said he couldn't believe that Chicago residents had been so helpful in raising money for his family.
"It makes you feel good about society in general, you know what I mean?" Doug Olson said.
For more information on the upcoming 3-on-3 hockey tournament, click here.
From left: Bob McGeever, Brie Montoya, Dylan Martin and Zach Sargis at last year's 3-on-3 hockey tournament at Johnny's IceHouse West. [Brie Montoya]
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