Former NHL tough guys Ryan Vandenbussche and Dave Hutchison would take COVID-19 hard into the boards if they could.
Instead, they did the next best thing and lent moral support to a Simcoe family struggling with the fallout from the pandemic.
Vandenbussche, a native of Delhi, and Hutchison travelled with the VanNetten family to Hamilton this week to show support for respected sports coach Mike VanNetten, 45.
VanNetten took ill earlier this month with symptoms of COVID-19. He was admitted to hospital April 8 and put on a ventilator two days later. He’s since had surgery and is taking medication to help him breathe.
Tuesday, sister-in-law Cindy VanNetten said VanNetten remains on an artificial lung machine “fighting for his life.”
At times like this, it’s important for the gravely ill to think about things that are worth fighting for. For VanNetten, that is his wife Sarah, his children and – among other priorities – his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.
To that end, Norfolk farmer Todd Boughner arranged for the delivery of sports memorabilia in an effort to lift VanNetten’s spirits.
These include a signed jersey from Leafs sniper Auston Matthews, an autographed card from former Toronto spark plug Darcy Tucker, and a hockey stick signed by legendary Leafs captain Mats Sundin, also retired. Also in tow was an arrangement of potted flowers from the Boughner farm.
Cindy VanNetten credited Boughner with organizing Tuesday’s visit, gathering not only the memorabilia but the moral support and presence of Vandenbussche and Hutchinson as well.
“Mike is a true Leafs fan through and through,” she said. “The support shown means so much to the family. They are incredibly grateful. Sarah was eager to tell Mike about it on her next visit with him in the intensive care unit.
“Although Mike is heavily sedated and cannot communicate, Sarah knows he’s listening.”
The community has been following Mike VanNetten’s ordeal with concern and alarm through regular family updates on social media. Tuesday, wife Sarah marvelled on Facebook at the resourcefulness of the care team at the Health Sciences Centre.
“We had no idea of their level of expertise,” she reported. “I will not talk right now in detail about them. They have saved Mike countless times.”