A young ice hockey fanatic is using the sport to put thoughts of a serious illness firmly behind him.
Blaze Shields-Pettitt (pictured, third right) was born with severe kidney damage and spent the early part of his life making frequent visits to hospital.
Now aged 10, Blaze has bravely battled through his illness and continues to undergo regular check-ups, but he has refused to allow it to stop him pursuing his number one passion – ice hockey.
His parents, Darren and Dawn, have encouraged Blaze to chase his dream of becoming a netminder and the youngster has joined the Belfast Junior Giants set-up in order to improve his skills.
Blaze’s favourite goalie is Edinburgh Capitals’ back-up, Kevin Forshall, and the club kindly invited Blaze and his brother, Kai, over for an Elite League game against Belfast Giants last year.
As a surprise the Capitals did a goalie only puck drop and he got to meet both Forshall and Travis Fullerton. His dad says the trip inspired Blaze to take up the sport.
“This year he’s sponsored Kevin’s jersey and has also just bought Jordan McLaughlin’s shirt – the Capitals are very much his team now,” said Darren.
“Off the back of that visit he’s started training with the Junior Giants, as he really wants to be a goaltender more than anything.
“He’s totally crazy and doesn’t mind standing there having the puck fired at him! He’s loving every minute of it, although he’s still very much learning the basics of the skating angle of it.
“Blaze has already started saving a lot more than he’s letting in and is spending a lot of time watching videos of goalies. He’s trying hard to copy them and implement what he sees when he’s out on the ice.”
Despite only having 52% kidney function, Blaze has already started to improve his netminding skills and Darren is keen to see his son develop further.
In addition to training with the Junior Giants, Blaze will be attending other training courses as the bids to hone his skills.
“He’s already made a lot of friends and because he’s shown he’s not afraid of facing the puck he’s gained a lot of respect from the other players,” added Darren.
“His next aim is to get into the team, although he’s got a lot of hard work ahead of him. Over the next few months he’ll be attending three training courses, including one with Colin Grubb in Dumfries.”
“It’s been a long road so far and Blaze still has to go for check ups every six months. His kidneys have been left badly scarred, but we’ve been told he doesn’t need surgery at the moment. Obviously, we hope things continue to improve.
“The Junior Giants have been great with Blaze and hopefully he can carry on doing what he loves in the future. He’s had a lot of encouragement from the ice hockey community in general and we’re really grateful that people have shown an interest in his progress.”
Blaze’s story has seen him encouraged by people across the sport and he recently got to meet Cardiff Devils and Great Britain goalie Ben Bowns.
The youngster has also received offers of help online. Kenny Birney played in Scotland back in the 1990s and he currently coaches at Braehead in addition to mentoring Kilmarnock and Scotland ladies goalie Megan Craig.
“After spotting some posts on social media I wrote to Blaze with a few hints and tips that will hopefully help him make progress,” he said.
“I had a number of people help me in my career – particularly in the early days – and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do the same.
“I’ve offered to give Blaze technical advice by studying video clips of him playing and pointing out any areas where he can improve. He is trying to put into practice what he sees goalies doing, so I’m happy to help him along the way.
“Blaze has had plenty of things to deal with during his life and it’s inspirational to see him put these to one side and pursue his dream of becoming a netminder.”
(Image permission: Ian Coyle)