Borah High hockey player Sam Jacobson submitted his wish request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho in March 2011.
It was an attention-grabber: I wish to skate with Alex Ovechkin, the star NHL forward who plays for the Washington Capitals.
For nearly a year, he didnt hear a word. The family contacted the Idaho chapter to ask whether they should pursue something else.
The answer was a resounding no.
The Capitals, who granted two other Ovechkin-themed wishes during the 2011-12 season, planned to make Sams request a special experience so special, in fact, that it drew the interest of ESPN.
Sams wish will be featured on the annual SportsCenter series, My Wish, that follows children during wishes involving athletes. Sams story is scheduled to air July 15.
The 16-year-old still is undergoing treatment for T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a cancer of the white blood cells), but he was able to play hockey and golf for Borah during his recently completed sophomore year.
He learned his wish had been granted just days before his trip began.
Hes pretty calm, Amy Jacobson, Sams mom, said. He just pretty much had a big smile on his face. I know him, so I could see the complete happiness and excitement in his face. But to anybody else, it looked like he was standing there wide-eyed with a grin on his face.
The Jacobson family Sam, Amy, father Bryan, brother Jack and sister Kate spent a week in Washington, D.C., in March. They attended two Capitals games, meeting the owners, TV talent and front-office personnel in addition to players, and toured many of the capital citys attractions, including the White House.
But the highlight came at practice, when Sam was invited into the Capitals locker room. He found his own locker packed with gear provided by Bauer, Ovechkins equipment company, and was taken onto the ice to skate with Ovechkin and several teammates.
It was incredible, Sam said.
Sams wish intrigued the Capitals because he is a hockey player and wanted to skate with the Russian star, who is more comfortable on the ice than in conversation.
(Ovechkin) is a big kid when hes out there, so we thought that would be a lot of fun for Sam, said Elizabeth Wodatch, the director of community relations for the Capitals. He didnt need to say anything. They just had a blast.
Sam skated for about 30 minutes with Ovechkin, defenseman Mike Green, defenseman Karl Alzner and goalie Michal Neuvirth. Forward Brooks Laich learned that Sams brother Jack was a hockey player, too, and told him to join the skate.
Meanwhile, forward Jay Beagle chatted with the family. He played with the Idaho Steelheads late in the 2006-07 season, which gave him a connection.
It was pretty awesome, Amy said. Its always amazing to watch people step up and just do things like that for kids. Bryan and I were just beaming, to see your kids out there skating around with arguably the greatest hockey player in the world right now was just amazing.
Ovechkin scored 38 goals in 2011-12, which ranked fifth in the NHL. One of them was an overtime game-winner with the Jacobsons in the stands.
He autographed the stick and puck and gave them to Sam.
I thought about what I wanted to do for a while, Sam said of his wish. I decided that I wanted to meet my favorite hockey player I couldnt imagine doing anything better. I picked Ovechkin because hes fun to watch he skates hard.
Hockey has become an integral part of life for the Jacobsons, which made the wish that much more poignant. Sam, the oldest, attended Steelheads games as a toddler and started playing hockey about 10 years ago, when his parents signed him up at a fair booth.
Jack plays, too, and Kate did at one time. Theres a hockey net in front of the house.
In this house, hockey is very big, Amy said. The porch lights are all broken. We just sort of fell into it. Had we known it was going to become the center of our entire lives for the next 15 years, I dont know that we would have gone down that road. Everything revolves around hockey.
The familys love for the sport, though, was one reason this wish worked. Sam wanted his siblings to enjoy his wish, too and hockey provided common ground.
When the wish granters came back to the office, said Nancy Berry, the vice president of program services at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho, they told me the family is so incredibly close and they were so impressed with Sam, for a boy his age. His major concern was that he wanted to include his brother and his sister equally in his wish experience.
That matched Amys concern about Sams diagnosis in December 2010. In addition to worries about her son, she wondered how the illness would affect her family.
Obviously the initial reactions are emotional and frightening and just overwhelming theres a lot of different fears going through your head, Amy said. How will the family unit deal with it? Sometimes these things bring families together and sometimes it doesnt work that way. Everything has just stayed kind of even keel in our house. Everybody here has got a really good sense of humor and we dont let (Sam) off the hook for much.
The first sign of Sams illness was an odd-sounding cough that Amy heard over the span of several months. Doctors at first prescribed antibiotics, but tumors started to show at the back of his neck less than a week later.
The main tumor, near his chest, was three times the size of his heart. Sam needed two surgeries one to remove a piece of tumor to test and one to insert a port for his medication and most of his treatment has been chemotherapy. He faces eight more months of chemo but is expected to make a full recovery.
He missed a semester of school and most of his freshman hockey season but feels strong now. He played a full season as a sophomore.
It was awesome, he said of returning to the rink. I was a little weaker, but thats to be expected.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat