By Chris Colton
(NOTE: Boomer & Carton are holding a special NHL alumni hockey game on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015 to benefit Mike Nichols and the Reeve Foundation. Entrance includes a Yankees ticket voucher. Tix and details: christopherreeve.org/nichols)
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mike Nichols is an inspiration -- and he's a hockey player through and through.
Tough, tenacious and optimistic. Nichols, who suffered a C-5 fracture during a game for Monroe High School (N.J.) just 13 months ago, made such an impression on Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton during his in-studio visit three months ago that the WFAN co-hosts promised to hold a benefit hockey game in his name.
That commitment will come to fruition Saturday, when Esiason and Carton host the "Mikey Strong" NHL alumni game at the Ice World sports complex in Middletown, N.J. to benefit the Nichols Family Trust and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
"Once you learn the story of Mikey Nichols and you hear how he got hurt, how he was carried off and how much hockey meant to him, certainly the story is a sad one. But where there's tragedy, there's always an opportunity for triumph," Esiason told CBS New York on Wednesday. "And no matter what the realities are, if you don't believe that you can do something special, you're never going to achieve it."
The spinal cord injury left Nichols paralyzed with no feeling below his ribs and limited use of his arms.
The 18-year-old has since answered the call as an advocate for the Reeve Foundation's "Big Idea" campaign touting epidural stimulation research.
"I'm just a hockey player," Nichols said Nov. 11 on WFAN. "I just work hard. I just do the best I can every day. Maybe I wasn't going to make it to the NHL. Maybe I was supposed to be in a chair. But there's a reason. There's a plan for everything."
"Who Mikey is now, a year afterwards, he's an amazing human being," Esiason said. "When he came into our studio, he just basically blew us away. His whole temperament, the way he carries himself, the things that he's saying, I think inspired me and Craig to try to do something, to try to bring some awareness to not only him, but to what the Reeve Foundation has done as well."
Saturday's game will feature several former players from the Devils, Islanders and Rangers: Brian Mullen, Ron Greschner, John Maclean, Steve Webb, Arron Asham, Tom Laidlaw, Ed Hospodar, Colin White, Bruce Driver, Grant Marshall and Randy Velischek. Also among the participants will be Will Reeve, the son of the late Christopher and Dana Reeve.
Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with the puck slated to drop one hour later.
Tickets are available at the Reeve Foundation's website for $23 and come with a voucher for two to a Yankees home game. Entrance will be $25 at the door.
"We can't wait -- I can't wait -- to get there on Saturday," Esiason said. "I know it's going to be pretty powerful. There's going to be a lot of emotions flowing. We've got a lot of NHL guys coming and I've got a bunch of my friends participating in it. And hopefully we're going to raise a lot of money, have a really nice day for Mikey, shine the light on him and his family again and hopefully make some sort of a difference in his overall life and make a little bit of a difference in spinal cord research."
Last week on the "Boomer & Carton" show, Nichols declared himself a member of Team Carton and selected Grant Marshall as the first member of his squad. Marshall overcame temporary paralysis as a result of a spinal cord injury suffered as a teenager in the Ontario Hockey League, going on to have a long career in the NHL.
Esiason, a former NFL MVP who has shared the field with the best of the best, said Nichols has an advantage in that he has the mindset of a competitor.
"It's hard to put into words," he said. "(Paralyzed Rutgers football player) Eric LeGrand is the same way. And I know that as athletes, you always think that you can overcome anything and you can conquer just about anything that's in your way. You're gonna be able to work for it and you're gonna win. You don't become an athlete unless you have that kind of personality.
"And when you hear Eric speak or when you hear Mikey speak or anybody who has gone through this, you hear them all saying the same thing: that they're going to overcome. The accolades -- when you get MVPs and awards and all this stuff -- really don't mean anything when you understand the reality of what these families are dealing with.
"So for us, it's an opportunity to go spend some time with a family that has been so heroic in the way that they've battled this -- and that's definitely worth our time."
for more features.