Saturday, Oct 01, 2016
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Storm's Salajko gets a scary wake-up call

Notes and quotes from the ECHL and other communities, noting that defenseman Andrew Hutchinson - a member of the 2002-03 Toledo Storm who had seven points in ten games - made it to the National Hockey League this week for his first two big league starts with Nashville before being sent down to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Wednesday ...

The words hit goaltender Jeff Salajko harder than any slap shot he'd faced in seven years of pro hockey; Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS.

Salajko joined the Storm in March. He backed up Doug Teskey in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs but sat out the Cincinnati series when his nerves didn't respond normally.

By the middle of the summer, he was at the Mayo Clinic, and doctors were trying to find out why a 28-year-old athlete was struggling to walk up the stairs, with muscles that would twitch and spasm.

That's when they began testing for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, a neuromuscular disease that is usually fatal within three to five years.

“I hadn't even thought about that,” Salajko said from his home in Jacksonville. “I didn't even know what that disease was. You do some research and I heard about the caddie [Bruce Edwards] for Tom Watson who has it. To realize how scary a disease it is, I was a little freaked out and lost weight.”

Salajko hasn't been cleared from the possibility of having ALS, but he's regained the 15 pounds he'd lost on his 205 pound frame after the Storm season ended. Doctors have told him that another series of tests in two weeks should determine whether or not he has Lou Gehrig's Disease, or, as Salajko said they suspect; Benign Fasciculation Syndrome.

A non-life-threatening disorder that has many of the same symptoms as ALS, those afflicted with BFS do not have muscle weakness, atrophy or reflex change.

“This has made me appreciate my family a lot more,” Salajko said. “Hockey had been No.1 my entire life; it's all I've ever done. But I finally had to realize, I may have had my last chance. My wife, Karen, is the executive producer for the NBC affiliate here and I think it's about time to put her first.”

While awaiting more testing, Salajko mixes daily medications designed to quell hyperactive nerves while taking business correspondence courses through Athabasca University in Alberta.

“I wanted to go out on my own terms,” Salajko said. “That may not happen. They said a lot of people that have this live with it. You really don't realize how much you take your health for granted until you get a scare.”

The Storm will meet the team to beat in the ECHL's Northern Division tonight and tomorrow at the Sports Arena.

At least that's the consensus of the division's coaches, who in a poll released last Friday picked the Reading Royals to finish first, followed by Peoria, Atlantic City, Trenton and Toledo. Trailing the Storm are Cincinnati, Wheeling, Johnstown and Dayton.

Reading received four first-place votes, the most of any team, as well as 71 points. Toledo totaled 40 points, with no first-place recognition.

A first-place vote was worth nine points, second was eight, continuing to ninth place which was worth one point.

“I look at this as a great opportunity to see where we stand,” Storm coach Steve Harrison said. “A team that comes in with a lot of fanfare, those are the teams we like to play against.”

The two funniest lines Storm captain Wes Mason ever heard came off the tongue of longtime NHL'er Rob Brown when Mason was playing for Orlando and Brown for Chicago in the International League.

It's the same Rob Brown who scored 49 goals in 1988-89 while playing on a line with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh.

“He told me, `Mason, settle down,'” Mason said. “`I've already made my money, I'm just out here for the exercise.'''

That comment came in the next-to-last game of the Turner Cup finals with the score tied 1-1 in the third period. Mason said Brown - who drove a Porsche in the summer and a Hummer in the winter - got off another shot earlier that season.

“We were in another pushing match,” Mason said. “He said, `Hey, Mason, I know you're hurting for money. If you want to make a couple of bucks, come on out and polish my car after the game.'”

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