They made a decision.
The house needed some touch-ups.
For the sake of aesthetics, sure, but for something else, too. Something new.
“A healthy start,” says Ally Brickley.
So the Brickley family got to painting inside their Salt Lake City home. They put down new carpet. They needed another positive jolt. During all this, Matt Brickley ended up rummaging around in his desk drawer one day. What he came across was one of several auspices in this unbelievable story filled with them.
It was a rookie card, 13 years old. There was a signed message on the back. It wasn’t to Matt or Ally. It was to their son, Daniel. A young promising hockey player from Utah wrote a message to a then 10-year-old. It was six words long.
“Meet me in the NHL, Daniel.”
Future L.A. Kings star Trevor Lewis wrote a message so long ago that when Ally Brickley brings it up today, she can’t help but chuckle. Lewis' signed card somehow ended up in Matt Brickley’s desk, where within the last year, he stumbled upon this forecast that went unseen, well, forever.
“Thirteen years ago,” Ally Brickley says once more. “It is a strange thing.”
Those words on the rookie card are one thing, but that’s just a tinge of this story that’s beyond poetic. Because when it comes to hockey in Utah, you know the Lewises and you know the Brickleys. You know them because of their sons, the NHL hockey players now playing on the same team in Los Angeles. But this story started at a new hockey rink that opened Christmas Day in 1981 at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.
That’s where Matt Brickley later met Randy Lewis, and the two bonded over a couple things they’ve never fallen out of love with: the ice and hockey. More than 35 years later, the longtime friends will show up at the Vivint Smart Home Arena on Monday night in a couple of baggy hockey jerseys. One will say Brickley, the other Lewis. One will be No. 78, the other No. 22. It will be another moment neither can still believe, but one they’ll have to soak in.
Because Matt Brickley doesn’t know how much longer he has to live. Just that he is going to be there to watch as much hockey as he can with his family and one of his oldest pals right there next to him.
Last October, his eyes red, his face covered in tears, and his brain searching for the right words, Randy Lewis walked up to Ally Brickley. “I can’t believe this is happening,” he told her. Randy had always had this dream to one day see their boys suit up and play. Either against one another or, somehow, end up on the same NHL team.
It went something like this, Ally says, relaying Randy’s perfect scene: the two dads in the stands, drinking a couple of beers, watching their boys play. This is what Randy had hoped for as he watched Daniel’s stock rise as a talented young defenseman coming up through the junior hockey and college ranks, that one day he’d join the league alongside his son, Trevor, who has won two Stanley Cups with the Kings.
That’s a hope he continued to hold onto, when last October, Matt Brickley was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. Matt’s been told there’s no cure. He started an immunotherapy trial last year after his diagnosis and it worked for about eight months. In July, the cancer started growing again. Since, Matt’s been in a standard chemotherapy treatment.
“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “The doctors say there’s no cure for what I have. All I can do is prolong my life for as long as possible. That’s what I’m working toward.”
Hockey, of course, helps. How couldn’t it after everything that’s transpired. After receiving the news about his dad’s medical condition, Daniel’s play continued to turn heads. NHL scouts and front offices wanted the 6-foot-3 kid from Skyline High School. Teams were lining up. Including, of all teams, the Kings.
Randy Lewis was on a father’s trip with Trevor in Nashville last year when they bumped into Kings president Luc Robitaille, who asked him if he’d ever heard of this soon-to-be undrafted free agent out of Minnesota State-Mankato.
“Just since he was born,” Randy told Robitaille.
Back in 1981, Randy and Matt started out lining up against one another on the ice at what is now the Cottonwood Heights Recreation. Matt was working part-time at Snowbird during the day and at the rink at night. He was a defenseman, a big-hitter when he needed to be, but skated like a forward. Randy was a right-winger.
“Funny enough,” Randy said, “our kids are the exact same thing.”
In the fall of 1982, they played in a senior check league. Meaning full contact. Meaning if you got lined up, you were getting dropped to the ice in a heap. They played together once a week, every Sunday, for 10 years. For a couple of years they weren’t playing together. Randy got hurt in the check-league, which eventually dissolved, but they reconvened.
Off and on for the following 30 years, they played together. Randy’s old house was directly across the street from the complex. After pick-up games or practices, they’d walk across the street, have some drinks in his basement and talk hockey.
Daniel Brickley signed as a free agent March 30. That same day, the Kings announced a three-year agreement to play a preseason game at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City starting Monday.
“First thing I thought,” Daniel recalls, “I get to play in front of my family.”
His mother couldn’t help but think of her husband’s cancer diagnosis and the dreams of their friend, Randy Lewis. Ally had been at the Cottonwood rink so long ago, watching Matt and Randy skate and hit and score. Seated next to Trevor’s mom, Linda, she helped change Trevor’s diapers on the benches during practices every Thursday or during Sunday games.
“We were always, literally, together,” Ally said.
So when Daniel signed, and the preseason game was announced, she thought about Randy’s tear-streaked proclamation last October, the rookie card Matt stumbled upon in his desk, and couldn’t help but think something unexplainable was in the works. At that time, the Kings were in the middle of a playoff fight. Just a week after Daniel signed, Robitaille called Matt to tell him there was a chance his son might play.
“They weren’t going to put a college kid in for their fight for their playoff lives,” Matt thought.
On April 5, the Brickleys arrived at the Staples Center. Daniel’s siblings, Abbie and Sam, were down by the glass as the Kings came out to warm up. Daniel was suited up. No. 78. He got in the game and the icing on the cake was his first career point, earned with an assist. They were in the owner’s box. Matt knew Randy was there in his own seats, but told him to come up.
The old No. 22 and No. 78 stared out at the ice.
“There it was happening,” Matt said. “There we were, together, watching them.”
Randy’s voice cracks remembering that night.
“He wasn’t sure he was even going to be around to watch his kid play in the NHL, so when he did, I was there with him,” Randy said. “That was pretty special.”
They have at least one more night together in a chilled arena. Monday night in downtown Salt Lake will be different than that night in Los Angeles in April. For so many reasons. But these dads, these old teammates, old opponents, are ready. They have to be.
“I think it’s cool for our families to get to watch that,” Trevor said. “Obviously playing in Salt Lake, it’s going to be a pretty special moment.”
Matt Brickley is waiting for his next scan to find out if the cancer is still spreading or if the chemo is warding it off at the moment. He said these days he’s feeling good. Sure, there are times when the chemo “kind of knocks the crap out of you,” but for the most part, Matt said, he’s leading a normal life.
Matt can’t skate or play like he used to. When he gets out there, players give him encouragement, knowing full-well what he’s fighting off, but he can’t shake the reality that he’s a liability on the ice. That’s never been the case. Not until the last year.
“I still want to get out there and do it,” he said. “So I do.”
Just padding up helps him feel better. It gets him thinking about the puck, instead of his diagnosis, and time itself. Watching his son live the dream alongside Trevor is everything, too. The two are separated by eight years, but Daniel’s leaned on his lifelong family friend during his time in L.A.
“He’s there when I need him, for sure,” Daniel said.
Matt has plenty of hockey to plan for in the coming months. While trying to catch as many Kings games in person as possible, Matt and Ally Brickley will also be shadowing son Sam, who recently joined an AAA hockey club in St. Louis. They’re headed there Nov. 19, to watch Daniel and Trevor play the Blues, and to catch one of Sam’s games in his new hometown.
“Definitely a divide-and-conquer season,” Ally said.
It starts Monday, where 37 years after they met, two hockey guys get to, once more, watch their sons play in an NHL game on the same team. It’s preseason, sure, but it’s being played in their own backyard of all places. Family members are flying in from around the country, including Matt’s hometown of Boston, where he first fell for hockey idolizing Bobby Orr as a kid so long ago.
Almost every day, someone contacts Ally seeing if tickets are still available. She’s fielded countless calls. Their whole neighborhood is going. Family friends, work friends, the Utah hockey community. They wouldn’t miss this. They can’t. They’re coming for Trevor and Daniel and also for Randy and, especially, for Matt. The support he’s received since his diagnosis last October has been overwhelming, Matt said. He hopes the focus Monday night will be on the game he loves and the homegrown NHL players.
“All I know,” Randy said, “I’ll be close to Matt, regardless.”