Being a good teammate isn’t always easy. Sometimes, you need a little help. Just ask 10-year-old Leopold Hylton, who plays hockey in a league near Washington, D.C. But seldom does the help come from an opponent, unless he’s someone like goalie Kaiden Whaley.
Leopold’s Georgetown Titans were in a bind. Their goalie was sick, and the team had no backup to face Kaiden and the Hagerstown Bulldogs in a game last December. So, Leopold volunteered. A newcomer to hockey, he played goal in soccer, “and wondered what it would be like on the ice.” Turns out it’s not too similar. “Moving in the equipment is tough,” he said. “I was trying to make saves with my skates, and I couldn’t hold the stick in just one hand.” His mom, Anna, didn’t consider that Leopold was helping out the team. “I was just terrified for him,” she said. “So, we sat right behind him for support.”
By the end of the first period, Leopold had allowed seven goals. “Part of me was thinking that I might not make it through the game,” he said. “The other part was telling me to keep going.” “At that point, your heart says, ‘We need to cheer on this boy,’” said Stephanie Whaley, Kaiden’s mom. She knows all too well that “the goalie usually gets the blame, so you want to keep his spirits up.” Sitting behind the goal, her husband, Shane, tried to show Leopold how to hold the stick but couldn’t get his attention. At the end of the period, Shane gestured to Kaiden, “but Kaiden knew,” Stephanie said. “He was already on it.”
Kaiden skated toward Leopold, caught his eye, then offered him a clinic on how to hold the stick, how to drop to his knees and how to bounce back up. “We were both wearing masks, so it was hard to see his reaction,” Kaiden said. “He looked like he wanted to thank me and then get on with the game.” Leopold said, “I was surprised but glad. He helped me a lot.”
Over the next two periods, Leopold allowed just three goals, and fans for both teams cheered every save that both goalies made. “That was so nice and heartwarming,” Anna said. “It was a nice introduction to the sport.” Yet both families were surprised that the story touched people beyond the rink in Hagerstown, Md. “I think it shows that there’s a lot of hate in the world, and even little things can make people happy,” Kaiden said. Leopold thought the story spread nationwide because “it was just a couple of kids doing the right thing.”
Kaiden’s actions were a big deal to the NHL, which invited both teams to the Stadium Series game between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. They also met the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team, fresh off its gold-medal victory at the Olympics. “That was awesome,” Leopold says.
Since then, the families have had few chances to connect. The Whaleys moved to New York, where Kaiden plays in goal for a new team. Leopold said he might be an emergency backup for Georgetown, if the situation comes up again. But they will be together at the Musials. This time, Leopold has something to offer Kaiden. “I feel this is what sports is all about − a spirit of togetherness − that I’m surprised people are so amazed,” Anna says. “But I’m glad this touched so many and that we have a way to show that this should be the norm.”