Denna Laing the most inspirational athlete of the Decade

Heartwarming rally of support for Denna Laing highly encouraging

In what has proven to be Boston hockey’s finest hour, the remarkable outpouring of support for one of its own has proven to be nothing short of heartwarming. After Denna Laing crashed into the boards at the Women’s Winter Classic in Foxboro, Massachusetts, no one could have foreseen that it would be the final game of her season, let alone the beginning of a long recovery.

Suffering from a spinal cord injury, Laing has been in hospital since December 31, 2015 (the day of the Women’s Winter Classic), as the hockey community has been distraught over such a tragic outcome. With significant sporting figures such as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Boston Bruins alum Cam Neely all issuing public statements of well wishes, the result has been a wave of encouragement.

Marissa Gedman is one of many Pride players that have visited Laing in hospital. Not only is she a teammate, but also one of her best friends. Having first played together for the Assabet Valley club team at the age of 12, the two would become teammates at Noble and Greenough prep school, growing up together around hockey. Visiting her in hospital has only added to an unbreakable bond, as Gedman draws admiration from her strong spirit.

During the week of January 17, 2016, the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins have both shown their support. This is attributed to the fact that both teams competed on New Year’s Day at Foxboro, in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. The day prior, Les Canadiennes de Montreal from the CWHL competed against the Boston Pride, Laing’s club team.

The Canadiens have shown great compassion, honoring Laing with a tribute video prior to their January 19 contest with the Boston Bruins. As both teams wore the same jerseys from the Classic, it was a stunning visual that resulted in a show of solidarity from both teams.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 final for the Bruins, said jerseys were auctioned online to benefit Laing. For Montreal goaltender Mike Condon, the game had a more profound impact. Both Condon and Laing attended Princeton University and competed in NCAA hockey. Having seen a member of the Tigers family suffer such a life-changing injury, he was proud of the way the Bruins and Canadiens worked together for such a great cause.

Following the accident, the Princeton team engaged in a show of support that became commonplace throughout many NCAA programs. Although Laing wore #24 with the Pride, her number with the Tigers was #14. The Tigers roster formed the number 14 on the ice, with a photo posted on social media.

Princeton players form the #14 (Laing's number when she played there) as a show of support. Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

Princeton players form the #14 (Laing’s number when she played there) as a show of support. Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

Adding to this momentum was the fact that several of Laing’s former teammates at Princeton went to social media with thoughts and prayers. One of the most notable was Gabie Figueroa. A former captain at Princeton during Laing’s time there, she was one of the first to post messages of support online.

Since then, programs have emulated the Tigers initiative, including the Pride, of course. The Concordia Stingers women’s ice hockey program, coached by Canadiennes forward Julie Chu have also paid tribute to Laing with the #14 formation on the ice. In addition, all teams in the NWHL have yellow-colored stickers with number 24 in black font on the back of their helmets. Adding to this momentum is a limited edition wool hat issued by the Bruins, with Laing’s #24 on the back. As a side note, players that competed at the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds in St. Catharines, Ontario wore stickers on the backs of their helmets that read “DL”, Laing’s initials.

On January 21, the Bruins honored Laing with a pregame ceremony before facing off against the Vancouver Canucks. Of note, her image was also featured on the Bruins’ game-day posters issued to fans. Laing’s former teammates from Assabet Valley High School and current teammates with the Boston Pride were on-hand to sell 50/50 tickets, raising an astounding $20,063 to assist with medical expenses.

Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara visits Laing in hospital (Image obtained from Twitter)

Boston Bruins blueliner Zdeno Chara visits Laing in hospital (Image obtained from Twitter)

With Laing still in hospital, a message on video was aired on the scoreboard, resulting in a highly emotional standing ovation. The day prior to the match, Bruins captain (and 2011 Stanley Cup champion) Zdeno Chara visited Laing in hospital. Telling her to never give up, Chara’s words will have strong meaning as Laing has ambitions to go to law school, having balanced hockey with work as a witness advocate.

Laing’s sisters, Brianna and Lexie participated in the ceremonial face off. In addition, they were guests of Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, who enjoyed the game from his suite. This was an extension of the strong support shown by the Jacobs Family, whom along with the Boston Bruins Foundation and TD Garden has offered a donation of $200,000 for The Denna Laing Foundation.

Another member of the Bruins that has also offered financial aid is Patrice Bergeron. Of note, he announced a raffle, in which the winner would see the January 26 contest against the Anaheim Ducks from his suite. With tickets at $5 each, he also declared that all proceeds would go towards the Foundation.