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Published: 12/30/2010

Toledo-area hockey teams continue their support for injured Clay player

After an initial generous outpouring of support, Jim Cannon feared people would forget the overwhelming challenges faced by his once athletic and outgoing teenager.

Kyle Cannon was a 14-year-old freshman forward on the Clay hockey team when he was checked headfirst into the boards during a game in suburban Dayton on Nov. 30, 2008. In the blink of an eye, the active youngster fell to the ice paralyzed with a devastating neck injury.

"He's always been an athlete," Jim Cannon said. "He loved all sports. That was his life. He was shooting a puck, bouncing a basketball or throwing a football or baseball. Now he doesn't have that anymore. He doesn't have an outlet. We're looking for a pick-me-up for him."

Last New Year's Day, a charity event raised nearly $25,000 and drew a record crowd. A total of 4,020 tickets were sold for the Kyle Cannon Benefit Game between Clay and Anthony Wayne at the Lucas County Arena.

"It was kind of cool to see everyone," said Kyle, now a junior at Clay. "I'm used to all the attention. I've got a lot of it since I got hurt. So it's nothing new. I think it's nice that they are doing this. There are so many people that helped."

Jim said the event lifted his family's spirits. But he said he thought it might be just a one-time event because the accident remained fresh in people's minds.

But instead it has grown from two teams to six. On Saturday, Anthony Wayne, Clay, Maumee, Perrysburg, Northview, and St. Francis de Sales are participating in a High School Hockey Day event at the Huntington Center. A portion of the proceeds of the New Year's Day event will be donated to the Cannon family.

"I'm glad he is truly not forgotten," Jim Cannon said. "I hope it does get better and bigger each year. Last year when they dropped the puck I cried like a baby. That day was huge for our whole family -- to see that amount of people come out for Kyle.

"The last couple months he has been struggling with the whole aspect of the injury. I think it lifts his spirits to see that people still care."

The original event was spearheaded by two people associated with the hockey programs, John Utter of Clay and Bruce Johnson of Anthony Wayne. The game broke the Ohio High School Athletic Association record for attendance at a hockey game, which stood at 3,992.

"It's cool that other teams have gotten into it," Kyle said. "I played with a few of those guys when I was younger. It helps … I just don't have the words."

A pregame ceremony will be held at 11:15 a.m., followed by a game at 11:30 a.m. between rivals Maumee and Perrysburg. St. Francis then takes on Northview at 1:20 p.m. followed by the final contest between Anthony Wayne and Clay at 3:10 p.m.

St. Francis senior Bryce Connor, a captain who will play in the game, said all of the players "can't help but feel something for him."

"It's unfortunate what happened," Connor said. "You feel bad when you see someone that can't play anymore. It's motivation to go out and play harder and work harder."

The event is sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo Walleye organization has offered its full support.

Tickets are $15 for all three games and also are redeemable for a ticket to any Walleye game this season. Toledo plays Cincinnati at 7 on the same night of the high school event and information is available at toledowalleye.com/cannon.

Mike Keedy, who is the Walleye's manager of special events, said five dollars of every ticket goes back to the high schools. He said if people have other plans on New Year's Day they can still use the ticket for one of the Walleye's remaining home games.

"They are donating what they earn to the benefit fund," Keedy said. "It's such a great cause."

Jim said his son has limited movement in his right arm and can lift his hand slightly.

"He can't scratch his own face," he said. "He can't brush the hair out of his face."

Kyle did major occupational therapy for a year at a rehabilitation center in Livonia, Mich. It was the same clinic former Detroit Red Wing Vladimir Konstantinov, who was injured in an auto accident, did much of his initial rehab.

"But we didn't get very good results," Jim said. "Nothing panned out. And nobody can explain it to us. But we're always hoping something will come along. That's what we're pulling for now."

Clay senior Devon Eckman was Kyle's teammate at the time of the accident. He was sidelined with a knee injury and sat in the stands.

"I was standing right next to the boards where he got hit," Eckman said. "I was watching it. I didn't know what to think. He was not moving. It didn't look good from the beginning."

Jim said he initially was not overly concerned.

"He always got out of the way. He was smart, elusive and often the fastest and best skater," Jim said. "When he got hit, I thought he just had a concussion. He usually gets back up…"

Eckman said the players stood in silence on the ice before being told to head to the locker room.

"I wasn't angry. I didn't know what to think, honestly," Eckman said. "I was standing by the boards right next to his whole family. When his dad went out I went out with him. Then they put a blanket on him."

Eckman, who was a sophomore at the time, said the players were not told of Cannon's condition until later that night.

"We didn't find out they knew for sure he was paralyzed until we were on the bus ride home," Eckman said. "That was the worst bus ride ever. We pulled over and they stopped and told us at a gas station. It was just silent and terrible."

Eckman recalled many of the players in tears as they called their parents on their cell phones.

"He was my roommate that weekend too. So I had all of his stuff next to me on his seat," Eckman said. "It was terrible. I still think about it all the time."

Carey Horvath, who has been Cannon's primary caretaker for the last year, said initially Kyle was very withdrawn.

"He wasn't getting out much," Horvath said. "He didn't want to go anywhere at first. But he's getting out there again."

Horvath said in private Kyle remains a gregarious teen, often joking around.

"He's always a talker with me," Horvath said. "He's a comedian."

Horvath called Kyle "a remarkable kid." She said he has the daily ups and downs of a typical 16-year-old.

"He's still adjusting and overcoming obstacles," Horvath said.

Jim Cannon said the family calls Horvath "Old Reliable."

"She does all the things that would be nearly impossible for us to do all the time," he said.

Jim Cannon estimates that bills for Kyle's care have now surpassed the $3 million mark. He said one of the initial surgeries cost $190,000.

Jim Cannon said most of the expenses have been covered thus far by catastrophic insurance by the hockey team's coverage through the OHSAA as well as his wife, Laurie's private health insurance.

But Jim, a carpenter, said he has been sporadically employed over the last two years and that the insurance has a cap that he fears will be reached before Kyle turns 18.

Kyle once again attends classes at Clay.

"I always mess around with him in school. I tell him to give me a ride on his wheelchair," Eckman said. "He always laughs. It's always good to see him smiling."

Eckman said before the accident Cannon was very vocal.

"Honestly, you couldn't get the kid to shut up," Eckman said. "He was jumping off the walls. Now after this, he was so quiet and everything. It's nice to see him smiling and talkative again."

Kyle has attended a handful of Walleye hockey games. He plays video games, spends time on the computer, and watches movies.

"I've always been comfortable about it. It's never been uncomfortable," Kyle said. "The first week I was hurt, it was kind of weird. But after that I kind of got used to it. I still talk to a lot of my friends. It's no different than if I didn't get hurt."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.



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