The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

November 5, 2006

A tribute to Anthony

Mavericks retire No. 99 in honor of late fan/friend

MANKATO — The number 99 may forever be attached to The Great One. But around the hockey rinks of this town, that number — and maybe even the nickname — belongs to someone other than Wayne Gretzky.

On Saturday night, the Minnesota State men’s hockey team paid homage to its great friend, Anthony Ford, raising a banner and retiring 99 in his memory.

Nine-year-old Anthony died in April after an 18-month battle with leukemia. He spent that same year and a half becoming an honorary member of the hockey team, and likewise, several Mavericks became honorary members of the Ford family.

“I don’t think they will ever know how much they helped us,” Anthony’s mom, Robin Ford, said.

The feeling’s mutual.

“They did more for us than ever could have done for them,” said ex-Maverick Ryan McKelvie, now a graduate assistant coach with Bemdij State, MSU’s opponent over the weekend. “Anthony will be part of every player who played on this hockey team, and that will last a lot longer than the stuff we did for them.”

It was a little over two years ago that Anthony was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease, and Mavericks coach Troy Jutting saw to it that a few of his players, including current players Chris Clark and Kurtis Kisio, visit the boy at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

A hockey player and fan who often wore a No. 99 Mavericks jersey, Anthony was thrilled by the meeting. Little did any of them know that it was going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“One time we invited a few of them over for dinner,” Anthony’s dad, Michael Ford, said, “and they never left the house.”

This wasn’t just a Make-A-Wish experience — Anthony actually got to meet Gretzky through that foundation. This transcended team and family.

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