Behind almost every child playing youth hockey in the United States is a father, mother or both who spend long hours going back-and-forth to the rinks. The dedication and commitment of a youth hockey parent is second to none.
Such was the case for Jonathan Parker's father, Steven.
Parker, a 21 year-old from Solona Beach, Calif., is entering his third season with the Buffalo Sabres organization, playing for the AHL's Rochester Americans. This year will be vastly different for the younger Parker, however, as for the first time in his life, his father won't be there to support him and watch him play the game he loves. That's because the elder Parker died of cancer last Thursday after a three-year battle with the disease.
Jonathan got to spend countless times at the rink with his father and has many memories to cherish.
"My dad was at all of my hockey [games and practices] growing up and was the first to congratulate me on any accomplishment," Jonathan said. "My happiest hockey moment with him would be winning the 2006 14AAA National Championship in Rochester, NY. It was all the hard work finally paying off. It was a moment I'll never forget."
For the Parker family, playing hockey as a youth in California wasn't always easy.
"Growing up, trying to play hockey and progress to the higher levels is very tough in California. It requires a lot of time, travel and money. My father raised my sister and me by himself and worked full-time. He had to sacrifice a lot for me to get to where I am now. He kept me on the right direction, always pushed me harder than I thought I could go and always had my back. He was the ultimate hockey dad."
With cancer getting the best of his father, Jonathan Parker's family situation worsened. His sister, Charlene, had a devastating ankle injury that complicated the family's issues.
"My sister completely shattered her ankle a couple years back. She's had to get multiple surgeries and to this day she has trouble walking and doing daily activities. She quit her job and school to come home six months ago to take care of my dad. I didn't realize how much work it was and what she went through until I came home after the season to help. She put [off] her life and potential surgery to be able to live a healthier life to take care of my dad."
Jonathan Parker is entering his final year of a three-year entry-level contract with Buffalo. He has played two seasons with the Americans, the AHL affiliate of the Sabres. Many people assume professional athletes have no hardships, but Parker and his sister need people's help after putting so much money into their father's medical expenses. Parker's AHL salary is only $50,000, and much of that had to be poured into helping pay the medical expenses of his father once his dad lost his health insurance.
The hockey community has rallied behind people in need many times, like in the cases Jack Jablonski and Travis Roy, and if you'd like to help, the family and friends of Steven Parker have set up a fundraising campaign at YouCaring.com.
The memorial service has not been finalized but should take place at some time in late August.