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TRUE STRENGTH: K-WINGS RALLY AROUND 6-YEAR-OLD CANCER SURVIVOR

Thursday, February 9th
TRUE STRENGTH: K-WINGS RALLY AROUND 6-YEAR-OLD CANCER SURVIVOR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 9, 2022

TRUE STRENGTH: K-WINGS RALLY AROUND 6-YEAR-OLD CANCER SURVIVOR

Bennett McCravey impresses K-Wings with strength and resilience in the face of Leukemia.

By Collin Murphy for K-Wings.com

KALAMAZOO, MI – Professional athletes are usually thought of as some of the strongest people in the world. But the Kalamazoo Wings recently had a chance to witness another kind of strength: a 6-year-old boy who was born with Leukemia and has achieved remission.

Bennett McCravey, from Albion, MI, started intravenous chemotherapy as well as receiving chemo through his feeding tube at three weeks old. Bennett stayed on life support for the first two months of his life and spent 86 days in the NICU at University of Michigan CS Mott Children’s Hospital.

After a lengthy battle with his cancer, Bennett achieved remission on August 29, 2017. And it was a simple email a little over 5-years later to the K-Wings that turned into so much more.

“I thought maybe (the K-Wings) would sign a jersey for him or something like that,” said Jessica Johnson, Bennett’s mother. “I had no idea they were going to go above and beyond and give him that type of experience.”

But Kalamazoo forward and alternate captain Erik Bradford, currently called up to Cleveland (AHL), is always searching for ways to get involved with kids impacted by cancer in the Kalamazoo area and was thrilled to hear about the opportunity to meet Bennett.

Born with Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML) and Noonan syndrome, Bennett was deemed too sick to survive a bone marrow transplant, which is the most common form of treatment for JMML. That’s when the doctors at Mott Children’s Hospital decided to go with chemo instead, and the decision paid off wonderfully.

Johnson said she had originally reached out to the K-Wings, thinking that the team’s ‘Survivor Night’ on Jan. 27 was centered around cancer survivors rather than the CBS reality show. The timing worked out perfectly with Bradford’s initiative always being top of mind.

“It’s something that we talked about and went over at the beginning of the year,” Bradford said. “It hasn’t come to fruition as much as we’d like (with Bradford playing just eight games in Kalamazoo thus far), but to share that experience with him and his family was pretty unique and cool."

While Bennett’s story is certainly unique, he has a love for hockey that stems from an experience many families in Kalamazoo can relate to. An older brother, Korbin, who plays hockey.

“I think it definitely started with watching his brother (Korbin),” Johnson said of the joy that hockey has brought to Bennett’s life. “And then watching the K-Wings play, just the excitement and the energy.”

Bradford met Bennett in the front office before the K-Wings took on the Toledo Walleye on January 27, and he delivered a team-signed jersey and hat to him. But Bradford took it a step further and invited Bennett to meet the team pregame with a tour of the locker room.

The moment Bradford entered the room, the energy from everyone present centered into the joy lighting up Bennett’s face. And the emotion was visible on Bradford’s as well.

“It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life, I was almost in tears,” Bradford said. “You could just see all that he’s been through coming out, and to be able to put a smile on his face meant a lot to me.”

At one point, after the initial front office meeting, Bennett leaned into his mother's arms while donning the autographed K-Wings jersey and said, “Mom, this is the BEST day ever.”

Bennett also got to meet Kalamazoo’s coaching staff, and Head Coach Joel Martin had one more surprise for him. He was going to tell the team the starting lineup.

“I think his smile,” Martin said was what stood out most when meeting Bennett. “He was having the time of his life, being able to check out the locker room and give the starting lineup for the guys and have them all cheer when he was finished.”

The experience of watching Bennett read the starting lineup in the locker room was “unbelievable” for Johnson.

“I stood there with tears in my eyes and chills,” Johnson said. “To see him in a room of all of these K-Wings, they’re a big deal. For them to be so happy to see him, it felt so special and like they really did truly care that he went through (his battle with JMML) and is here to experience that.”

Johnson said her family has “loved the atmosphere of K-Wings games” even before the special night that they had on Jan. 27, and they plan on coming back often.

“We went to the Rainbow Ice, Blue’s Clues and Jurassic Night,” Johnson said. “Just the different nights (the Kalamazoo Wings) have and how they incorporate everybody from every aspect of the community, that’s what drew us into coming back.”

“I know what made Bennett’s night is when Bradford said, ‘Now you’re a part of the K-Wings family,’” Johnson added. “He’s still saying ‘I’m part of the K-Wings family,’ it just meant so much to him.”

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The Kalamazoo Wings are a professional hockey team located in southwest Michigan that has been a staple in the Kalamazoo, MI professional sports landscape since 1974. The K-Wings compete in the ECHL and are the AA affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets and the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters. Kalamazoo plays their 36 regular season home games at Wings Event Center from October through April.

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