A farewell for the ages for a pee wee hockey player

Owen Nei’s medical conditions prevent him from playing at the senior level, so fans gave him a “senior night” to remember on Friday.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — The St. Paul Capitals pee wee team wants to compete for the district title this year.

There is no more important player in the championship push than 13-year-old Owen Nei.

“I couldn’t imagine this team without Owen,” said teammate Brennan McMahon. “He always makes me want to play my best game.”

Owen has defied the odds since birth. Diagnosed with hydrocephalus and Goldenhar syndromehe survived more than a dozen surgeries, playing hockey longer than anyone could have imagined.

But he has reached the end point of his career.

The next age level, bantams, will be way too physical for Owen because it involves checking.

So on Friday night, Owen played his last home game at Schulz Arena in St. Paul – with a big upset waiting for him.

“I think that’s the most people I’ve ever seen at one of my games,” Owen said. “Kind of like a ‘Senior Night’ to pee, I guess.”

Owen’s family had no idea parents and fans threw a big party for his last home game. With “O-Dawg” signs and a loud pre-game intro, they filled Schulz Arena on Friday and created an atmosphere almost unheard of on a pee wee level, making it feel like a high school or college hockey game. .

“Just the parents, the people showing up tonight for his last game, it’s just an amazing community,” said Chris, Owen’s father and coach. “I’ve been suffocated all day.”

There were also a few other surprises in store.

Former Minnesota Wild player Wes Walz presented Owen with a gift from the team, and Mayor Melvin Carter’s office proclaimed “Owen Nei Day” in the city of St. Paul.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Owen said of the whole show.

Owen will still play a game on the road later this weekend and then the district tournament, but Friday was his last chance to dazzle the home crowd alongside his friends and teammates.

“I love these kids,” he said. “They are like family to me.”

Even if Owen won’t player next year, he will never stray from the game he loves.

“[Hockey] means life. It means family. It means everything to me,” Owen said. “That’s all I ever wanted.”

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Catherine J. Martinez