Nick Schoephal thought he was just going for another private hockey lesson this past Saturday morning at the Carolina Ice Palace.
It turned out to be a good bit more than that for the Bishop England/Junior Stingrays travel hockey team goalie.
Mike Mansson, a former back-up goalie for the South Carolina Stingrays and local youth hockey coach, has been coaching Schoephal for the past four years, trying to hone the skills of the young goalie.
But with the unexpected death of Brian, Schoephal ’s older brother earlier this summer, Nick just hadn’t been himself lately.
Mansson was determined to bring a smile back to Nick’s face. Mansson gathered several former Stingray players — including club hall of famers Rob Concannon, Jason Fitzsimmons, Dave Seitz and Matt Scherer — for a surprise “pro day” skate for Schoephal this past weekend. Former Stingrays Bryson Busniuk, Johann Kroll, Scott Romfo and Nate Kiser also took part in the skate.
As it turned out, the impromptu workout was just what Nick, 16, needed to take his mind off the passing of his older brother. For about an hour the former Stingrays gave Schoephal the experience of lifetime, working on drills and then playing several pick-up games with the Bishop England High School junior.
“It was great, it was amazing to be able to skate with those guys,” Schoephal said after the workout. “It was a lot of fun to be out there on the ice with them.”
Jeff Schoephal, Nick’s father, said the skate with the ex-Stingrays was a much-needed distraction for his son.
“Nick was feeling real alone and real down, and to have these guys take time out of their schedules to skate with him was great,” Jeff said. “I appreciate it and I know Nick is very thankful as well. He had a big smile on his face the whole time he was out there and we haven’t seen that lately.”
Mansson knows all about personal loss as his stepfather died when he was growing up. Mansson remembers that getting on the ice was the best therapy for getting past his grief.
“You could tell that Nick wasn’t himself after his brother passed away and I remember how I felt when I had to deal with a loss like that,” Mansson said. “I knew we needed to do something to get his mind off of his brother, even if it was only for a few hours.”
Mansson began making a few calls and in just a few days had rounded up plenty of ex-Stingrays ready to take the ice.
“If they were in town, they were in,” Mansson said. “The hockey community isn’t very big, but they are very closeknit. Everyone answered the call and stepped up and came out. I don’t think any of the guys knew who Nick was, but when I called they didn’t hesitate to come out and help. When you’re a goalie, the only thing matters is the next shot, so hopefully Nick was able to concentrate on that and not on his brother for a little while.”
Scherer, a former team captain who helped lead the Stingrays to the 2009 Kelly Cup title, said taking time away from his family on a Saturday morning was no big deal.
“I know that for me hockey has always been a great escape when things are not going right in my life,” Scherer said. “When things are tough or stressful for someone like Nick who’s going through the loss of close family member, hockey can be a real reprieve. When Mike called, I didn’t hesitate, I said, ‘Just tell me when and where and I’m there.’ Hockey has given me so much, I figure it’s the least I can do.’”