Danbury Whalers use draft pick on paralyzed New Jersey high school player

Sean Leahy
Danbury Whalers
Danbury Whalers

A January hockey game game for Monroe High School’s Mike Nichols would end up changing his life. After being checked from behind, he crashed headfirst into the boards, fracturing his C-5 vertebrae. Paralyzed, he has no feeling below his rib cage.

Five months later, despite Nichols’ career having ended, the Federal Hockey League’s Danbury Whalers made a dream come true.

During the FHL’s draft on Wednesday, the Whalers used their fifth and final pick on Nichols, a forward who was committed to Widener University in Pennsylvania to play hockey.

Here’s the moment he received the news: 

The idea was born during a conversation between Whalers owners Alan Friedman and Herm Sorcher as they were trying to figure out the best way to shed more light on Nichols’ story. A logo featuring his number 23 has been created and a fundraiser benefiting spinal cord research and the Nichols Family Trust has already been set for next season. That’s just the beginning of what’s in store. 

From MyCentralJersey.com:

Nichols and the Whalers plan to work together to create awareness for spinal cord injuries and to promote a safe hockey campaign. Nichols has been invited to participate with the Whalers on the ice, on the bench or in the locker room.

"Our intention is to give him something to shoot for," Herm Sorcher, CEO and managing partner of the Whalers said in a phone interview. "When he's ready to tie on the skates, we want him to take that opportunity with us.”

Sorcher and Friedman reached out to Nichols and his parents prior to the draft to discuss their intentions and to share with the family the vision they had in helping Mikey and others with spinal cord injuries.

Since Nichols' injury, the likes of James van Riemsdyk, Pierre McGuire, Adam Graves, Sean Avery and Ken Daneyko, as well as former Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a 2010 game and signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, have reached out.

Nichols’ permanent condition won’t be known for potentially up to a year’s time, depending on when the swelling diminishes. The cost of treating his injuries will be helped by the trust fund set up in his name. 

Through all the adversity faced since January, Wednesday night served as a reason for the Nichols family to smile.

"We needed a day like that, to be honest,” Nichols’ dad told SILive.com this week.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!