'Dedicated' Mass. Hockey Player, 18, Left Partially Paralyzed After Spine Injury During Game

"Jake is among the most dedicated, hard-working student-athletes. He has more grit and perseverance than most 18-year-olds," reads a GoFundMe page for Jake Thibeault

Jake Thibeault
Jake Thibeault. Photo: GoFundMe

A Massachusetts community is rallying around a teen ice hockey player after he was seriously injured during a recent game.

Milton Academy senior student-athlete Jake Thibeault was playing hockey on Saturday when the scary incident unfolded, according to a fundraiser set up on his behalf by the Greg Hill Foundation.

During the game, Jake, of Fitchburg, was involved in a collision on the ice, in which he fractured his T7 and T8 vertebrae and ultimately has been paralyzed from the waist down. He also suffered a small brain bleed, the fundraiser stated.

"It's everyone's worst nightmare," Jake's family friend, Kevin Lizotte, told Boston news channel, WHDH.

Following the accident, the teen was rushed to UMass Medical Center, where he is currently recovering, per WHDH. A GoFundMe page that was set up on Monday by Lizotte stated that Jake has since been able to sit up with the support of the Worcester hospital staff.

"I'm going to fight this fight like hell, the road is going to be long but because of each and every one of you, it makes it a little bit easier," Jake said in a statement that was posted via the fundraiser.

Jake Thibeault
Jake Thibeault. GoFundMe

Lizotte, who previously coached Jake, said he was devastated that something like this could happen to such a "dedicated" and "hardworking" student-athlete.

"My words will never accurately capture Jake's full character. He is so much bigger than words," he wrote on the GoFundMe page. "What makes Jake an outstanding hockey player has less to do with skills and skating and so much more to do with character. Jake is among the most dedicated, hard-working student-athletes. He has more grit and perseverance than most 18-year-olds."

"Most importantly, he is the ultimate teammate," Lizotte went on. "He's the first to pass the puck to set up a perfect scoring opportunity for teammate and the first kid to provide backup if someone is disrespecting his team. He is positive and encouraging to others both on and off the ice."

"Off the ice, he's the first to hold the door and the last to order his meal," Lizotte added. "He embodies the Milton Mustang's motto 'Dare to be true.' He is a true gentleman, a true athlete, a true student, a true teammate, and a true friend."

To help Jake on his rehabilitation journey, Lizotte decided to set up the GoFundMe fundraiser. As of Wednesday afternoon, it has raised over $338,000 and counting.

The Greg Hill Foundation fundraiser also raised an additional $59,000 for Jake, while the Boston Bruins expressed their condolences over the accident in a statement on Twitter.

"He's the hardest-working kid, whether it's at his job, whether it's at the gym, whether it's at school, he's worked for everything he's got," Lizotte told WHDH. "Jake is going to do great things in this world, even if hockey is taken away from him... he's going to do other things that are absolutely unbelievable."

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As Jake continues to recover, his father Michael Thibeault, spoke out on Facebook about the incident and noted how his son has remained positive despite the "soul-crushing" injury.

"My family is amazing and this 'setback' will not define us or change who Jake is. We were strong before and will be even stronger during this," Michael wrote. "Jake is tough, is overflowing with grit and is determined to walk again. But he is scared beyond belief."

The heartbroken father went on to detail his son's commitment to the sport, including his weekly 4 a.m. wake-ups and the thousands of miles he put on his car traveling. He said his son still has hopes of attending Babson College, "maybe minus the hockey."

"Losing hockey and his dream of playing collegiately, which we now know for certain was happening, is soul crushing for him," he wrote. "But he accomplished a lot doing what he loves and deserves praise for it."

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