Senior Sam VanderHoeven usually wears the No. 11 jersey for the Beaver Dam High School boys hockey team.
But taking to the ice before the Golden Beavers faced McFarland on Nov. 27, the 6-foot-4 forward, was wearing the No. 3 jersey of fellow senior Sam Westfall.
Earlier that same day Westfall had surgery at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa to remove a benign tumor behind his sinuses and was told he couldn’t play hockey this year.
“I cried. Yeah, I cried,” said VanderHoeven, who was in his kitchen when his mother broke the news to him. “I always thought there would be a fighting chance that he would end up playing at least one or two games like senior night.”
Unfortunately for the Golden Beavers, the hope of Westfall playing was out of the question because he was diagnosed with juvenile nasal angiofibroma, which is a benign vascular tumor that grows in the nasal cavity. It’s a rare condition with about 50 diagnoses each year in the United States.
Westfall said he had an embolization done where doctors put a catheter through a major artery from his groin to his nose. The procedure reduced or cut off the blood flow to the tumor.
“That tumor was made up of blood vessels and it was on the major blood vessels in my head or on my sinus,” Westfall said. “They actually ended up doing 80 percent of the blood vessels. That was very good.”
With his dad, Chris Westfall, standing beside him, doctors told him he would miss his senior year of hockey.
When new Beaver Dam coach Jose Matamoros found out about Westfall being forced to end his prep hockey career, he and John Henry IV, a parent and Beaver Dam youth hockey coach, talked about how the team could show support.
“We wanted to keep his presence and his energy he has involved in this team. We came up with the idea of hanging Sam’s jersey behind our bench,” Matamoros said.
After VanderHoeven took a couple of laps in the No. 3 jersey and warmed up with the rest of the Golden Beavers, he skated over to the bench, switched out jerseys and Matamoros hung up the No. 3 behind the Beaver Dam bench.
And that’s where Westfall’s jersey has been for every home game this season.
The next day, Westfall said the doctors removed the tumor and had to grind down part of the bone because it had attached to it.
“The doctor came out and said, ‘The only thing surprising about the surgery was how smooth it actually went,’” Sam Westfall said.
But for Westfall, a way of life had just been stripped from him. He’s a 17-year-old who had played hockey since he was 5. And he had high expectations playing his senior year under Matamoros.
“Playing hockey has been my No. 1 sport and that’s one sport that I look forward to,” Westfall said. “Being on the bench ... is hard, especially watching Sam (VanderHoeven) go score three or four goals a game.”
VanderHoeven’s 32 points (26 goals, 6 assists) on the season ranks third in the Badger North.
VanderHoeven and Westfall — who are born four days apart with VandeHoeven’s birthday being May 7 and Westfall’s May 11— have been the best of friends since they were 3 months old taking swimming lessons at the YMCA of Dodge County.
So VanderHoeven wanted to show support in his own way.
Westfall and his father were cheering for the Golden Beavers at the team’s third home game of the season against Oshkosh Dec. 1 when VanderHoeven scored five goals in a 6-1 victory.
After his third goal, VanderHoeven celebrated it by pretending to row a canoe — a celebration Westfall used when he scored his first career goal for the Golden Beavers. Westfall opened the door where the players exited the rink and threw his hat onto the ice.
“It was too cool,” VanderHoeven said.
This season has been different for VanderHoeven and the Golden Beavers.
“Practice isn’t always as fun when there’s not always someone to mess around with the way it used to be,” VanderHoeven said.
But Westfall, who is still one of the leaders on the team, shows up in the student section during games and comes to practices on occasion with his contagious smile.
“He’s dealing with it really, really well,” Matamoros said. “I don’t think I would be dealing with it as well as he is. For him to even be able to step foot in the rink to watch a practice or come to a game, I don’t think I could do that. It would be too hard.
“For him to do that is really awesome. He plans to travel with us on away games. He’s a part of this team and we’re happy to have him around. He’s got great energy. He does get the kids hyped.”
VanderHoeven and Matamoros both agreed Westfall gets his personality from his father.
“We base our life out on the positive end of everything,” Chris Westfall said. “You don’t surrender, you deal with what is dealt with you and you figure out how to make it better. He was prom king. He’s a leader and he’s able to fill the stands. He puts a tweet out and builds that student section the kids absolutely love.
“He’s a dreamer,” he said of his son. “He’s got a bright future.”