KURTIS FOSTER: COURAGE IN THE GAME OF LIFE

Edmonton Oilers' Kurtis Foster (R) checks Calgary Flames' Alex Tanguay during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Edmonton October 7, 2010.  REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

Edmonton Oilers defenceman Kurtis Foster got a nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy last season for his comeback from a badly broken left leg with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it’s how he’s overcome a broken heart that makes him truly remarkable.

I’ve held off writing about Foster’s heartbreak until now, but with the Oilers in Minnesota to take on the Wild Thursday night, it seems like an appropriate time to mention it for those not familiar with what he’s been through.

It was while he was playing with Minnesota, at the end of the 2007-08 season, Foster sustained his career-threatening injury in a game against San Jose when he was knocked into the boards by Sharks rookie Torrey Mitchell. He didn’t get up.

Foster needed surgery and the insertion of a rod in his leg to repair the damage. Between recovering and rehab, he missed most of the 2008-09 season, playing just 10 games with the Wild.

Signed by Tampa Bay the following summer, Foster surprised everybody by putting up career numbers, scoring 8-34-42 in 71 games on the way to his Masterton nomination. Gutsy stuff.

That, it turns out, was the easy part.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

Last May 10, less than two months before he signed as a free agent with the Oilers, Foster and wife Stephanie lost their first child, daughter Lila Kimberly, who died as the result of a head injury sustained during birth just five days after being born.

"I don’t know how to explain it," Foster told beat writer Mike Russo, who covers the Wild for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and told Foster’s story in today’s editions of the newspaper.

"It was the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me, that’s ever happened to my wife or could ever happen to anybody, but Steph and I have stuck together. It’s a long, tough process."

It will be a lifelong process. Sometimes, probably too often, we forget that athletes like Foster are people first — sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. What they do isn’t who they are.

Thankfully, most of us haven’t had to endure the kind of heartache Foster is dealing with right now as he returns to Minnesota to face the Wild for the first time as a member of the Oilers.

In a lot of cases, the real storylines can’t be found in the numbers or the game notes, and this is one of them. That Foster is back playing hockey at all so soon is testament to what he’s made of.

Just a thought: Let’s keep the life-altering event Foster and his wife have been through in mind as we mentally grade his performance, and that of all the Oilers, early this season. As always, perspective.

UNLUCKY 13

Minnesota used to be one of my favourite stops on the road, but the Xcel Energy Centre has been less than welcoming to the Oilers — they have lost 13 straight games to the Wild on home ice.

How long has that been? The Oilers haven’t won in Minnesota since they beat the Wild 2-1 on Jan. 16, 2007. That’s long enough that just five players, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Ladislav Smid, Tom Gilbert and Zack Stortini, remain from that team.

I’ll never forget that last win for two reasons. First, I remember Craig MacTavish making Brad Winchester a healthy scratch, even though Winchester’s parents had flown out from Wisconsin for the game. I remember thinking at the time, "Winchester’s done here."

That win was also the last Oilers road game I covered as the beat man for the local tabloid. It turns out I was done with them (more accurately, they were done with me), even though I didn’t know it yet.

AND . . .

— Rod Phillips will be back behind the microphone Saturday in Calgary for the first of 10 games he’ll be calling on 630 CHED this season. Phillips will work with analyst Bob Stauffer. New play-by-play man Jack Michaels gets the night off.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Dan the Man

    I can’t imagine the strength it would take to get out of bed every morning after a tragedy like this, nevermind being able to carry on with your day to day life.

  • The Fish

    My son had to go to the Stollery when he was 5 days old because he stopped breathing, but lucky for my wife and I, everything turned out OK. terrible tragedy for Foster. Here;’s hoping he pots 3 tomorrow.

  • The Fish

    My wife and i have been through two misscarriages which is hard enough (In between two boys). I cannot begin to fathom what it is like to go through what Kurt did.

    A co-worker went through an ordeal similar to Kurt, she lost her daughter after 6 days. She was amazingly strong throughout and even 5 years later I’m sure she still thinks about it. Luckily She now has a 4 year old boy.

    Life is cruel but it is also amazing what the human spirit can triumph over. I think the most important thing is having a loving/nurturing relationship with you wife. It goes a long way to help support each other.

    Stay strong Kurt.

  • The Fish

    Great article RB, what I really love are the little tidbits of personal or private info that you tuck into the stories, fascinating. I for one would be enamoured to hear the story of how you were lured from the Journal to work at the Sun, only to be given the shaft a while later. That kind of thing happens to all of us working stiffs, which is why I find it so interesting.
    Classy move by MacT, I think the guy was a jerk personally. A workplace bully boss. We’ve all had those too…

  • The Fish

    My good friend lost his daughter three days ago. She was 2 weeks old. The funeral is tomorrow and I’m just gutted as the what to say when I get in from out of town. How people can go on after such tragedy is something I wonder. If anyone seen the obits in the Sun today, you couldn’t have missed her tiny face.

    I hope Kurtis and his wife can garner the strength to have another child and, God willing, let this one be healthy.

  • The Fish

    Had a family friend who lost their son at 2 yrs old. Kills you to hear about kids passing away.

    to be able to cope, and regain your career, especially when you are in the public spotlight, is nothing short of amazing. Kudos for Kurtis

  • magisterrex

    That’s an incredibly inspiring story. My wife suffered a miscarraige and it was tough dealing with the loss. To go through birth and lose your child shortly after is hard to imagine. Foster has a hero’s heart. I’m very happy he is on the team.

  • Chris.

    Kurtis Foster will up his game and I expect him to get more shots through on the PP, particularly with the team on the road.

    The regular day to day, and sometimes extremely tragic off ice circumstances of individual human players will always play a factor in on ice performance… But I’d wager Kurtis came to Edmonton wanting a fresh start both on and off the ice. I wish him luck in both endevors.

  • book¡e

    Having recently lost my 3 month old son I know the depth of the pain that Kurtis is feeling. Having a strong family and friend base helps you through the tough times.

    I wish the Foster clan all the best in the future. Also wishing Kurtis all the best as an Oiler!

    Cheers!

    P.S. Please support our Stollery – pray you never need their help but be reassured you are dealing with the best if you do.

    • People like Kurtis aren’t any different than you and I aside from being paid better than most of us for what they do.

      Money might help smooth over some of the rough spots we all face, but it doesn’t buy immunity from the realities of life outside the rink.

  • book¡e

    I have a two year old daughter and I just can not imagine anything happening to her.

    I want to take the ‘support the Stollery’ notion one step further. Be sure to tell your MLA and other MLA’s that in Alberta, we believe in well funded and good quality health care for our kids. For a long period of time last year, we had kids in tents at the Stollery like some kind of poverty struck country.

    I think its ridiculous that we have golf tournaments, bake sales, etc to support such an important places like this (that we need to, not that we do). We are a wealthy province and I think we can all afford to pay our share.

  • @ “Just a Name”……….. that is just bloody awful. My heart winces just to read your note. I don’t know that there is anything anyone can say that would be at all helpful after such a tragedy.
    …… friends and family making themselves available to you (without offering advice) is all I can think of.
    I am old enough to have had 4 friends suffer the death of a child but I have no illusion that I can fathom the depth of the pain they’ve felt.
    I know its a pathetically weak response, but I am terribly sorry.

  • Rob...

    My thanks to those of you willing to share your tragic stories. It takes a lot of strength to make it through what you’ve gone through. It takes even more to relive it through the retelling of the story.

    I have a favour to ask of the ON. There are a lot of people out there who love bugging family and friends with questions such as ‘So when are you having kids?’ There are those out there having trouble conceiving, and others who have suffered miscarriages without yet being ready to share their pain. So please keep such well-intentioned jibes to yourself.

    My wife and I have a happy healthy little boy, but not before going through both of those situations.