LEWISTON — The Niagara University hockey team made a special signing over the weekend.
And while the signee, 7-year-old Williamsville native Jack Marchetta, won’t add to the team’s power play, penalty kill or defensive abilities, he will add to the team’s morale. Just like the team will add to his.
“It feels pretty great,” Jack said during a press conference with his family and the team Saturday afternoon after his signing at Dwyer Arena. “I’ve never done anything like this before that’s so special. But it's great that my family can come see it and the whole team can. Being part of this team is very special to me.”
Jack, who was diagnosed with juvenile dermatomyositis at birth, joined the Purple Eagles through Team IMPACT, a Boston, Massachusetts-based nonprofit which aims to “improve the quality of life for children facing serious and chronic illnesses through the power of team.” The autoimmune disease can lead to flare-ups for Jack, depending on external stressors like the sun or germs present in his environment.
If the disease goes untreated, it can spread through muscles, and eventually cause the body to shut down, said Jack’s father, Chuck Marchetta.
“He has had a fortunate treatment path,” Chuck said. “We caught it rather early.”
The treatment for the disease is initially similar to cancer treatment, Chuck said, noting that Jack was treated with a type of chemotherapy to shock the body back down to normal. From there, they’ve tried to reduce the amount of medications Jack needs in order to stay in remission.
“He’s very close right now to being in that state,” Chuck said. “It’s not a curable disease. It’s something that he’ll live with for the rest of his life, and he’ll have to be very careful.”
For instance, Chuck said, if Jack were to get sunburnt, that could cause a relapse, and the treatment would have to start all over again.
“For him to go outside, he always has to have sunblock on,” he said. “For vacations, we have him stay inside if we go somewhere sunny, and do things in the evening.”
Once every three weeks, Jack spends eight hours at a hospital, receiving a transfusion.
“That helps him the most for his immune system,” Chuck said. “It’s also the biggest burden at this point because he’s there all day.”
Despite having to deal with the disease, Jack is an active, normal kid. He plays soccer and hockey, and loves life. Being active helps with the disease, said Jack’s mom, Colleen Marchetta. His love of hockey is how he ended up with the Purple Eagles.
The team was looking to pair with a Team IMPACT athlete, said Phillip Rhodes, Niagara’s director of hockey operations.
“The opportunity came up because the sports he had selected lined up with being with the hockey team,” he said. “So we met with them last spring, met with them over the summer a few times.”
In those meetings, Rhodes said, Jack blended right in with the team.
“Every time we met, he was very social, and just a great fit for the guys,” he said.
Along with the signing, Jack skated with the team during the warm-ups of its intrasquad scrimmage Saturday. Jack got things started with a shot on goaltender Brian Wilson and skated, joked and played with the players. He sat on the bench during the scrimmage, proudly wearing his No. 22 Purple Eagles jersey.
Head coach Jason Lammers said the team was excited to have Jack aboard for the 2019-20 season.
“He's going to be a big part of our team,” Lammers said. “And I think we would all agree that his competitiveness and his attitude really bring a lot to our team. And his youthful exuberance and great smile are going to add a lot of energy to our group, which we’re going to count on throughout the length of the hockey season.”
The media weren’t the only ones asking Jack questions at his press conference Saturday. Forward Kris Spriggs also had a question: “Obviously, we're so happy to have you on the squad this year. In your opinion, what's your biggest asset you're going to be bringing our team this year?”
“My biggest thing is that I would be really happy to have a great friendship with you.”
As for the upcoming season, Jack said he would be going to the games, and is excited to see how the team does.
“The guys are really nice,” he said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Jack Marchetta's father, Chuck Marchetta. We regret the error.