When it comes to diseases, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS, is as scary as they come.
To many, ALS is known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Gehrig, known to the New York Yankees faithful as The Iron Horse, was an elite-level first baseman and hitter in Major League Baseball from 1923 until 1939. During this time, he won the World Series six times.
It may seem that 17 years in the Big Leagues could be considered a whole career, as most players, once their career hits the teens, it is on its way to petering out. However, Gehrig was a different breed, setting records in grand slams (23) and consecutive games played (2,130) late into his career. Gehrig’s ironman streak lasted 56 years, and his grand slam record stood until Alex Rodriguez donned the pinstripes.
What ended Gehrig’s ironman streak? In fact, his entire career? When his play began to suffer in 1939, he started to complain of a loss of strength. When he went to the Mayo Clinic to get it checked out, he was diagnosed with ALS. The legendary ball player passed away only two year later. He was 37 years old.
So, what does ALS do? ALS is a progressive disease that attacks and destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Also known as motor neurons, these cells control the muscles throughout the body and without them, the brain can no longer communicate with the muscle fibres through our bodies. This condition can lead to respiratory failure within three to five years of its initial symptoms.
In January, the hockey world was rocked by the announcement that Ottawa Senators assistant coach Bob Jones had been diagnosed with ALS.
“Jonesy and I go way back,” states friend and former teammate Bob Boughner. “We played together with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL when we were teenagers, and we became best friends. When [my playing] career ended, he was already coaching in the OHL.
“We bought the Windsor Spitfires and after the first year, we brought Bob to Windsor—that was 16 years ago. Bob’s been here in Windsor, making Windsor-Tecumseh his home for the past 16 years.”
Boughner says that Jonesy is well-respected in the hockey community. His resume includes five years of junior in the Soo, playing professionally across North America and England, as well as 23 years as a coach in the Ontario Hockey League, a year in the American Hockey League, and the past four in the NHL with the Sens.
“When Jonesy got diagnosed, we said, is there something we can do? Anything?” recalls Boughner. “Obviously, it’s pretty devastating news. The character that Bob has, he immediately said that he wants to be an advocate and he wants to raise awareness and raise money and fund-raise and, ultimately, find a cure.”
In response to Jonesy’s wishes, and in partnership with the Windsor Family Credit Union, LiUNA!625, and Caesars Windsor, Boughner and Sens coach D.J. Smith have put together a charity hockey game—All In 4 ALS – Jonesy’s Game.
Taking place on Saturday, August 12 on the Main Bowl at the WFCU Centre, Jonesy’s Game will be a star-studded event featuring current NHLers, former Windsor Spitfires, and a variety of special guest NHL coaches on the benches.
“We have a lot of our ex-Windsor Spitfires guys that are coming out,” states Boughner. “Some of the Spitfires coming that everybody knows are Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, and Mikhael Sergachev, Cam Fowler, Zack Kassian, and the names go on and on. We’ve also got a lot of guys from the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators with Bob’s connections.”
Some of these names include Michael DiPietro, Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Cody Ceci, Jack Campbell, Gabriel Vilardi, Logan Stanley, Will Cuylle, Olli Maata, Robby Fabbri, Jake Walman, Michael Rasmussen, and Andrew Cupp.
Boughner adds that the benches will be run by some familiar faces as well, including Mike Babcock, Pete DeBoer, and Derek Lalonde, with appearance by D.J. Smith, Rocky Thompson, Steve Ott, and Trevor Letowski.
Boughner explains that all money raised through Jonesy’s Game will be going to the Sunnybrook Foundation, an arm of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
“That’s the biggest hospital in Canada right now when it comes to ALS research and this is where Bob is currently receiving treatment for ALS too,” says Boughner. “It’s a great cause and it’s for a great person.”
Boughner says that despite the diagnosis, Jonesy is doing well and is in good spirits.
“Bob’s fine,” reports Boughner. “He’s walking around, his mobility is fine—it’s great—he’s just having some trouble now getting the words out. His mind is excellent, it’s just trying to get it out, and sometimes his speech is a little bit slurred and slow. That’s obviously a part of the whole disease, but all-in-all, he’s doing okay.”
According to Boughner, dozens from Jonesy’s family will be travelling to Windsor to show support for Bob and the fundraiser.
“Jonesy is overwhelmed, but he’s also very appreciative of all of the support he’s getting,” he reports. “He knows we’re going to raise a lot of money that will be very, very important to ALS research and awareness, of course.”
He also adds that the Ontario Hockey League, Commissioner David Branch, and the OHL’s league owners have come on in a big way for the event with a major contribution to the cause and that the Spitfires and the Savage and Schwab families will be the event’s official gameday sponsors.
“Now that the event’s up and rolling, now our job is to sell tickets and fill up The Bowl,” states Boughner. “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem doing that, especially with some of the names we’ve got coming to town—and more on the way!”