JOLIET, Ill. – Nine-year-old Brandon Otte woke up the morning of Sunday, Jan. 23, grabbed his iPod, slid on his inline skates, and watched hockey while he zoomed around his Shorewood home. He knew that, in just a few hours, he would take on the role of honorary coach of the Peewee 1 Joliet Jaguars hockey team, and he had to put on his game face.
“The team needs to do their defense better – that’s what coach says. They need to stay in their positions; stay where the coach tells them and not go everywhere,” Brandon said when asked about his strategy for the game against the Crystal Lake Yellowjackets.
Brandon has been in the news and invited to events lately, following his diagnosis with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis in January of 2016. It was at one of those events, a Chicago Blackhawks game at which Brandon was honored, that Jaguar Hockey Club Peewee 1 Coach Ryan Schuman saw on the Jumbotron pictures taken at Inwood Ice Arena in Joliet of Brandon in hockey gear.
“I knew the pictures were from the lobby at Inwood. A week later, I saw a post on Facebook about him, so I contacted his dad to ask if Brandon wanted to come to a game and hang out with our guys, because I knew he liked hockey,” Schuman said.
Schuman said that, since that first game, Brandon has been to almost every practice and game with the team, and the hockey families have adopted Brandon’s family as their own.
“From the game, things ballooned. We knew his family was in a tough spot, so some of our parents have stepped up to babysit Brandon’s brothers and sisters,” Schuman said.
Brandon is the oldest of seven children to a single father, Jeff Otte, a firefighter with the Frankfort Fire Department. Jeff said Brandon started playing hockey at the age of 4, and played until September 2015, when he began experiencing headaches.
Brandon will have his final chemotherapy treatment, if scans go well, on Feb. 16. He wants to return to hockey during the spring season, which starts shortly thereafter.
“All he’s wanted to do is get back into hockey; he Rollerblades with his hockey stick all over the house,” Jeff said.
Any sport creates an expense for a family, and hockey is definitely no exception. With Jeff being a single parent of seven with two nannies, funds are tight for the equipment and lessons needed for Brandon to get back on the ice.
Joliet Jaguars Peewee 1 Team Manager Laura Hubbard said that, because Brandon has become such an integral part of the team, the Jaguar Hockey Club as a whole felt a responsibility to help him with his dream.
“We are here to support him because hockey families stick together, and we want him to know he is a part of the Jaguar family. When he can start playing, we want him to play without the financial burden,” Hubbard said.
Along with the honor of suiting up and being with the team during Sunday’s game, the Jaguar Hockey Club organized a fundraiser in conjunction with Brandon’s day in the spotlight.
Outside of the rink, tables were set up with raffle items from salons, local authors, and restaurants. The available items included clothing, hockey gear, Blackhawks gear, cosmetics, sports outings, and sports equipment. Fans also put money toward a 50/50 pot and purchased pucks for the Chuck-a-Puck contest, where young and old alike threw pucks toward a target at center ice in hopes of being the closest to win the pot of prize money.
Hubbard said that, with the 50/50, which the winner donated back to the cause; Chuck-a-Puck; the donation by Jaguar TV of its profits from DVD sales of the game; raffles; private donations; and a Joliet Jaguars Peewee 1 personal fundraiser, the Otte family received $3,642. Other Jaguar teams also collected money during their away games that day, so the final donation to the family will actually be more.
Jeff said he plans on using the money to help pay for his son to play hockey.
The game portion of the night finished with a 1-0 loss for the Jaguars, but to the team, parents, coaches, and Brandon, the night meant much more.
“My philosophy is that hockey is a life tool. It teaches patience, respect, adversity,” Coach Schuman said. “When I was younger, I could put on my gear and go on the ice like nothing else mattered. I want Brandon to be able to play and step away from the negative that has been going on, and step into something that takes his mind off of it.”
Brandon has his heart set on a goalie position and, Hubbard said, the Jaguar Hockey Club has received a donation of goalie gear for Brandon, as well.
“I think goalie is the easiest job because you don’t have to get down in the zone. You stay in one place,” Brandon said. “The pucks don’t scare me because you have all of the gear on, so you don’t get hurt.”
Peewee 1 Coach Ryan Schuman gives him team a pep talk before the game with the Crystal Lake Yellowjackets on Sunday. Brandon Otte, front, was honorary coach for the game. (Allison Selk photo for the Jaguar Hockey Club.)
Sunday's game was a fundraiser for Brandon Otte, who hopes to return to hockey this spring after surgery and treatment for Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. (Allison Selk photo for the Jaguar Hockey Club.)