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Goaltender inspired beyond the game

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By Doug Bell

In Denver area ice hockey circles, he was known simply as “the goalie in the wheelchair.”

Kyle Stubbs and his chair stopped pucks for a lot of teams over the years: the Warthogs, the Grinders, Berserk, Spitfire, and Chimney Full of Squirrels, to name a few. And he frustrated the shooters of other teams too numerous to list.

On a recent Saturday, many of us who played with and against Kyle gathered at the Promenade in Westminster to say goodbye and to remember a man who refused to accept the limits that life imposed.

With Kyle’s wheelchair in its happiest home, between the pipes, a solemn procession of players took a final shot in honor of a goaltender who defied every one of the odds and never once backed down.

Kyle had polio as a toddler and battled post-polio syndrome for much of his life. When he began complaining of fatigue and feeling poorly last fall, no one imagined that he was fighting yet another devastating disease: colon cancer.

At his service, Kyle’s wife, Naomi, and son, Gilian, told of a loving husband and a devoted father. His former mates described a goalie who defined their teams and their approach to the game. A fellow coach told of the joy Kyle found in coaching and leading young players.

As a fellow goalie and obsessed rink rat who also loves the game beyond all reason, I couldn’t help pondering what a wild weekend it had been. My beloved Pittsburgh Penguins had won the Stanley Cup the night before Kyle’s service, but it was difficult not to question why such things matter in life’s larger scheme.

Still, in the wake of Kyle’s death — and, even more to the point, in the wake of his life — a few things did seem clearer.

Kyle’s love for our sport, and for the sometimes lonely position we play, had an intensity that transcended every challenge he faced. Ultimately, Kyle Stubbs was defined not by his limitations, but by his passions.

And therein lay my answer: The things we care about are what make each of us unique and ultimately valuable; they matter simply because every individual matters. That was the final lesson I learned from the goalie in the wheelchair.

As a goaltender, Kyle shattered more than a few stereotypes. As a departed friend, he shattered one more: Hockey players don’t cry.

Most of us did.

Doug Bell is the editor of Evergreen Newspapers.