The past two offseasons for Shea Theodore would drain any other 24-year-old human being.
Theodore signed a seven-year contract extension last September, making him a part of the Vegas Golden Knights core for years to come.
This September was a tad different; much more important, much more than just hockey, a contract or long-term security.
In Theodore’s words, he’s just lucky to be alive after revealing Thursday that he underwent surgery for testicular cancer during the offseason.
“It was something I wanted to do,” Theodore said Friday about wanting to tell his story. “It’s something that a lot of guys have gone through but no one’s really spoken out about it. It was an honor to be able to hear from some of the fans and hear some stories about what everyone’s gone through. Everyone has their own battles, and it was just an honor to share mine.”
Shortly after Theodore and Team Canada lost in the gold medal game to Finland in the world championship, Theodore failed his drug test taken prior to Canada’s quarterfinal game because of an increase in a hormone that’s normally found through women during pregnancy. Other times, for men, that could lead to cancer.
Theodore is a great person to talk to in the locker room. As he detailed in his essay, he’s not one who likes to speak up, nor has the loudest voice. Theodore is someone who comes to work and is, really, a light-hearted person.
So you can imagine the nervousness going through the process, trying to compile the words and explain how this came to be. Someone of his age having to go through cancer, no matter how minute or massive, is not easy for someone of Theodore’s character to go through.
“I think it was something I talked to with my agent,” Theodore said. “He said I could be a good advocate for it, and just to try and open up. I’m not normally one of the guys that’s very open about a lot of things, but I think it was an important time. The way that I found out and how lucky I was, was definitely a factor in that.”
But as been the case of the Golden Knights now going on Year 3, it’s a team environment that organizations could try and replicate, but it might not be the same.
When Theodore’s girlfriend, Mariana, sent a mass text to the wives and girlfriends of the Golden Knights organization, support was quick. Jonathan Marchessault facetimed Theodore within seconds. Max Pacioretty had a three-day meal service sent to his home. It’s the little things that aren’t openly discussed within a team setting that make the Golden Knights such a tight-knit group.
Mark Stone played with Theodore (as well as Marchessault) during the world championship. Stone said he and Theodore took their drug tests the same day.
“To kind of get that news made my heart drop a little bit,” Stone said. “It looks like he’s taking it in stride. He’s done everything he can to make sure he’s going to be ready to go. I think the awareness he’s going to be able to spread with his story is going to be awesome. He’s a great player, but he’s a great person.
“It’s a simple group, but we have fun. We enjoy coming to the rink, we enjoy being around each other. That’s not just the players; the wives, the coaches, management and all the way up to Bill in ownership.”
As far as on-ice goes, Theodore is coming off scoring a career-high 37 points last season. He was the best defenseman for Team Canada during the world championship, per coach Alain Vigneault, scoring seven points (two goals, five assists).
It was a reprieve for Theodore to move on from how Game 7 unfolded in San Jose and get straight to other competition. But it also could have been for the best that the Golden Knights were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they were. Theodore doesn’t play in the tournament, he doesn’t get tested and the cancer gets worse.
Theodore said there is a possibility the cancer could come back, but he has the utmost faith in his medical team to ensure that it won’t.
“The way the season unfolded and going to the world championship, failing that drug test and the result that came of it,” he said, “I was extremely lucky.”
Theodore tweaked something during physicals on Thursday and is day-to-day, per coach Gerard Gallant, but the young defenseman is expected to take part in camp at some point. Theodore did not do any conditioning for about six weeks, Gallant said. Part of that conditioning should include some game action if Theodore plans to be ready for the season opener Oct. 2 against the Sharks.
After the offseason he’s had, Theodore is probably just happy to be around.
“I think once the article came out, it was a weight off my shoulders,” he said. “It was quite the process getting that organized and having all those thoughts go into that piece. But to have that out there, being able to move forward with that, I think that’s what I was looking forward to.”