Michigan boys' hockey co-captain dies on eve of state semifinals, team plays in his honor

Ben Rohrbach
Grandville (Mich.) High hockey player Ryan Fischer remembered
Grandville (Mich.) High students hold up their fingers in a No. 11 to honor co-captain Ryan Fischer, who died on Thursday night. (Detroit News)

One of only eight preps to receive Michigan's Scholar-Athlete Award, a member of his school's student government and a leader in his church's youth group, West Point-bound Grandville (Mich.) High boys' hockey co-captain Ryan Fischer was -- by all accounts -- the epitome of an All-American boy.

On the eve of his team's first ever Division 1 state semifinal appearance on Friday, he died in his sleep.

A night after recording an assist on Grandville's game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory against Grand Rapids (Mich.) West Catholic, Fischer passed due to complications from an enlarged heart, according to reports from The Grand Rapids Press, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. He was 17.

While the state's athletic association offered to push the state semifinal back, Grandville's administration decided along with Fischer's parents that the game should be played as scheduled on Friday night. Bulldogs coach Joel Breazeale explained the difficult decision to the Detroit Free Press.

“Honestly, it’s what the boys wanted and it’s what Ryan and the Fischer family wanted.

“We’re a tight community in Grandville. This is something that Ryan dreamed of. Ryan grew up next door to me and our families have grown up together. We know what Ryan wanted. This is about him. This is really about our young men teaching and showing their fellow peers about perseverance and doing the right thing.

“It’s not about a hockey game today. It’s about honoring a great young man, a wonderful family and a community. They earned the right to be here and Ryan would want us to play.”

The arena held a moment of silence prior to the contest. Both teams reportedly wore No. 11 stickers on their helmets, Fischer's co-captain Max Houtman donned his teammate's jersey and Bulldogs fans chanted "for our captain" as they raised two fingers in the air to personify his number. While Detroit Catholic Central ultimately won, 3-0, both teams again huddled on the ice in show of unity.

Regardless of the game's outcome, Grandville's hockey community accomplished its goal on Friday night, honoring a fallen teenager who seemed destined to make a difference.