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FORGED THROUGH ADVERSITY, REDDEKOPP THRIVES ON ICE & IN COMMUNITY

Friday, November 3rd
FORGED THROUGH ADVERSITY, REDDEKOPP THRIVES ON ICE & IN COMMUNITY

November 3, 2023

FORGED THROUGH ADVERSITY, REDDEKOPP THRIVES ON ICE & IN COMMUNITY

Kalamazoo defenseman Chaz Reddekopp uses personal experience to connect and inspire other diabetics to attain goals in life and pro sports.

By Pam Shebest for the K-Wings

KALAMAZOO, MI – When he was in fourth grade, Chaz Reddekopp became unusually thirsty and tired.

In addition, “I had to go pee every 10 minutes,” the Kalamazoo Wings defenseman said. “It was crazy.

“I was in the middle of tryouts for my minor hockey team. I couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without going off the ice to the restroom.”

Neither Reddekopp nor his parents or coaches could figure out what was wrong.

“I was really lucky because my best friend growing up, his mom was a nurse and she also had diabetes,” he said. “She noticed the symptoms and said these are the kind of symptoms I have.”

After several tests, the diagnosis was Type 1 diabetes.

Spending a scary week in the hospital, the youngster’s first question was “Can I still play hockey?”

The answer was yes but with precautions.

Some of those fears were put to rest after meeting with doctors and others who answered the family’s questions.

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Reddekopp connecting with Caden Byers and friend via social media. (Photo Credit: Caden Byers)

Now the personable 26-year-old is helping other children face the fears of the disease.

Reddekopp remembers that as a young hockey player what a big deal it was for older players to talk with the youngsters and he is hoping he can pass that along.

He has been reaching out to Kalamazoo area families as well as visiting classrooms and after-school groups to talk about the challenges he has faced.

He started his outreach while playing in South Carolina last year and connected with a group of young Type 1 diabetics and their parents.

He provided tickets to a game and “I was able to meet with the parents and kids after the game and talk about Type 1 diabetes and how you can live with it growing up,” he said. “The kids love hockey and we kind of connected that way.”

For his volunteering outside of hockey, Reddekopp earned the ECHL Community Service Award last year.

So far this young season, the blueliner has already reached out to families through tweets on X (formerly known as Twitter).

“To be honest, I got way more replies than I thought I would, more messages than I expected, so I was excited about that,” he said.

“It was cool to see how many people had some kind of connection with it. It’s something I’m proud to do.”

Because he could not accommodate all the requests, he plans to continue offering tickets to a certain number of home games the rest of the season for those dealing with Type 1 diabetes.

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Reddekopp in the South Carolina community, earning him the 2022-23 ECHL Community Service Award (Photo Credit: ECHL.com

Besides sharing his own tickets, “My teammates have been pretty good with using their tickets, too,” he said.

Reddekopp’s passion for hockey outweighs the challenges that go with diabetes, and he has maintaining his levels down to a science, so much so that after a week and a half of training camp, K-Wings Coach Joel Martin “had no idea (Reddekopp) had his phone out there monitoring his blood sugar levels.

“I still don’t even notice him checking them during practice or during a game so he must have it down to a science.”

Reddekopp said the biggest adjustment was learning what his body needs to perform and what he needs to have on the bench during a game or practice.

He wears a glucose monitor (Dexcom), which is a patch with a tiny needle that inserts into his arm. The monitor hooks up to his phone and alerts him when his sugar is out of whack.

During practice or a game, he has a Gatorade or little gummies on the bench for a quick burst of sugar if he needs it.

“There’s a drink I use called Karbolyn,” he said. “It has a lot of carbs in it but no sugar so it’s better to keep your sugar at a steady pace. I drink that during games. It’s good for leveling out my sugars as the game goes on.”

He also still injects insulin three or four times a day, before meals or snacks.

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Reddekopp hydrating during warmups. (Photo Credit: Kim Moss / K-Wings)

An unusual connection

Reddekopp came to Kalamazoo as a “future player” in a trade with South Carolina last year.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate to play in a lot of warm places since turning pro,” he said. “First year pro, I played in Los Angeles (with the AHL Ontario Reign) for two years. I played in San Jose for a year and then Tucson, Arizona, and then South Carolina the last two years.

“It’s been a while since I’ve actually had a winter and it sounds crazy to say and people laugh at me, but I actually did miss the cold a little bit. Growing up in Canada I was used to it.”

Before signing with the K-Wings, Reddekopp talked with Martin and former players to get a feel for the organization and fans.

“(Martin) was so big on how the people get treated here,” the defenseman said. “There’s a lot of history in this town and a lot of history with the team and the organization.

“Any time you have a chance to go to an organization like that, it’s special to be a part of that. I’ve talked to a few people who played here in the past, and they’ve had nothing but good things to say about it. It was a no-brainer for me to come here.”

Martin said the defenseman is what the team needed.

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Reddekopp moving up ice. (Photo Credit: Kim Moss / K-Wings)

“He’s a solid D-man,” Martin said. “He’s 6-foot-4 on the back end. We wanted an upgrade (to) our back end and bring up some size and some steadiness. That’s something we felt he could bring to our team.

“He’s been great. He’s been hard to play against back there. He’s been in one fight already, he’s had some big hits, he’s blocked shots, he’s awesome on the penalty kill. He’s done everything we’ve expected him to do so far here.”

One unexpected perk was the K-Wings' affiliation with the NHL Vancouver Canucks and AHL Abbotsford Canucks.

Although his biography has him from West Kelowna, British Columbia, he was actually born in Abbotsford and when Martin told him he would be going to Abbotsford camp, that was an added incentive.

“If you told me 20 years ago as a kid that I’d be going to Abbotsford’s professional hockey camp, I would be like ‘You’re crazy,’” Reddekopp said.

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Reddekopp & family (Left to right: Jerrad [brother], , Tammy [mother], Brianne [sister], Chaz, Courtney [sister], and Gary [father]. Courtesy Chaz Reddekopp

“It was really special for me. My family were able to come to camp to see me and that was cool. That organization is cool, too, to maybe have a chance to get called up there.”

While he is in Kalamazoo, the defenseman plans to continue reaching out to young people who are coping with Type 1 diabetes, and that is fine with Martin.

“We’re behind him 100 percent,” the coach said. “He started out using his own tickets and a number of us have talked to him and said any way we can help or if he needs extra we will make that happen.

“One of the reasons we wanted to bring him in is because we knew what kind of person he was off the ice and being a community service award winner for the league is a very good accomplishment.

Reddekopp said he loves working with young people.

“I’m very interested and excited about reaching out to other programs and getting to meet a lot of other people in the community,” he said.

“My main goal is to inspire kids with Type 1 diabetes. I just want these kids to realize they can do anything they want to do. It’s a challenge, but it’s manageable.”

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Kalamazoo hosts two home games at 7 p.m. this weekend at Wings Event Center. You can secure tickets to Friday’s tilt versus the Indy Fuel for Woods & Water night (1st 1,000 fans receive a limited edition floating keychain) HERE. Then the Fort Wayne Komets come to town for Military Appreciation night (1st 1,000 fans receive a limited edition K-Wings bucket hat), secure your tickets for Saturday’s game  HERE.

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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 Vancouver Canucks and the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Canucks. Kalamazoo plays their 36 regular season home games at Wings Event Center from October through April.

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