Child Defies Odds & Surges Forward

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Raised by 25 people in 16 months
Many hockey parents or youth sports parents will surely relate to this emotional story of a young hockey player who has faced years of unfair obstacles like so many of our children do. The stigma of a low income family in a “sport for the wealthy” can bring many unnecessary challenges that our children don’t even realize they’re facing.

Sam Kjos, a small town boy from Moorhead, MN has proven that big dreams and aspirations along with unyielding commitment, work ethic and a positive attitude can rise above the politics that fill many of our youth sports teams. His dedication has opened doors for amazing opportunities that we knew he deserved but never thought he would be able to break through.

The people that have gotten to know Sam would tell you that he is a special kid with a heart of gold. His personality is one that shines and pulls at your heart strings. He’s humble, down to earth and a great friend to everyone he meets, he judges no one. Sam is the one that sticks up for those who need it most, if someone needs him, Sam has their back. Sam is a one of kind kid and his story is one that shows how true determination can prevail in any situation.

Here is Sam in action. Visiting local schools to read to the kids- kids just love Sam!

Sam has been chosen to be on a hockey team in California for his senior year in high school. It’s a Tier 1 – AAA hockey team, the highest level of youth hockey, called the Jr.Reign out of Southern CA, formerly the Wildcats. He has also been invited to join a varsity team in the ADHSHL (Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League). These are both unbelievable accomplishments for Sam. I don’t say that because we’re shocked that he made such high level teams, we’ve always believed in his special talents. I say it because we’re amazed at the confidence he’s shown by making it happen. He did it all on his own and once you hear his story and the challenges he’s overcome throughout the 14 years he’s been in hockey, you’ll understand why this was so huge for him. How he got here, some would say is a slight miracle.

Sam has an amazing opportunity ahead of him, but it accompanies a huge financial obstacle that we’re praying will not stand in the way of what can potentially be a life changing experience. We are hoping to get some help from some of Sam’s support system or anyone that is touched by his story to keep his dream alive. Any help you can give, even if very little, will be appreciated more than you can possibly know.

Thank you to everyone who’s able to help out, to all of those who have supported Sam over the years, listened to our stories about his successes and challenges, watched our many pictures and videos that we’ve shared and most of all, thanks to everyone for believing in him, even when he had trouble believing in himself. It’s that support that gave him the courage to continue to chase his dream. He will be forever grateful for all of it. I know I am. It’s been a long bumpy road, a learning experience and I believe the tough times that Sam has been confronted with over the years have definitely made him into the determined yet caring and kind hearted young man that he is now. We couldn’t be more proud of him.

For those of you that haven’t been along for the full ride and haven’t heard the details of his experiences, you can read the full story below to get the full picture of his incredible journey and understand the challenges he has faced… and so far…has overcome.

Sam’s Emotional Hockey Journey

Sam started hockey at the age of 3, spent his first year learning to skate, falling over every couple feet, but stick in hand still swinging from the laying down position to get that puck! He spent his “games” climbing over barricades, joining in other team’s games and hitting the pucks on top of the goal net instead of blocking the ones going in. He was adorable to watch and in the first couple years it was a blast watching him progress so quickly.

For the first few years, they did not have “goalies”, players took turns “being the goalie” and Sam couldn’t wait for his turn. He would beg the coaches when it wasn’t his turn. As soon as he got to the level of being able to choose his position, he didn’t hesitate to choose to be a goalie. We were excited for him but dreading the fact that he chose the most expensive position of all. As long as he was happy, we were supportive. He loved the pressure of having to “hold” the team, he knew that he got a lot of the glory when the team won but he found out very quickly that he also felt at fault when they didn’t. Sam never wanted to disappoint anyone, he mentally took the brunt of every loss thru many years and his fellow players would always support him and build him up to know that he did a good job and the losses weren’t his fault.

Sam, at 11 yrs old (Pee Wee Level), was placed on the very “bottom” team-B2, which was the lowest level (teams were AA, A, B, B2). This was the year that Sam’s skills skyrocketed. Every game this team played, Sam’s stats of stopping pucks were off the charts and getting him noticed. Usual hockey games end up with anywhere from 15 to 20 and sometimes up to a rare 30 shots on goal. Sam had many games well into the 50’s for shots on goal. Watching those games were like simply watching 5 players take constant shots at Sam for 3 periods. He got so quick and so precise with his saves that coaches and parents started to talk about his amazing gift. We all knew this, but for the first time since Sam started hockey at 3 years old, he was finally starting to realize it.

The following year, he was chosen to be a goalie for the “top of the line” team… AA. It was quite a difference going from B2 to AA. He was noticed for the natural skill that he had. It was a fun but rough year for him as all teams have 2 goalies and this AA team had their goalie from the prior year already. At first he felt like an outsider but as Sam always does, he quickly made friends and became a part of the team. Regardless, there was no getting around the fact that he was now the “2nd goalie in line” (for many reasons you can most likely guess, enough said). So, his confidence took a beating that year and no matter how hard he tried, how good he was, he was always considered the “other goalie”.

When given a chance to play, he did amazing but you could see the change in him throughout the year as his confidence was slowly shattered. You would have never guessed it if you talked to Sam, he did not let on that he was upset or hurt by the unfair treatment. This is about the time where the favoritism started to really show and it only continued through each and every year as he played. Sam was a true “rink rat”, he always wanted to be at the rink early and stay late. He continued to attend the early morning, late night, constant practices, the summer goalie camps and specialized goalie training sessions. He simply loves the game of hockey and has a true passion; he would always take any chance he could to play and never made a big deal out of the favoritism that was all around him. We all knew it hurt him time and time again but he took the lemons and made lemonade. He strongly supported whatever team he was on, whether he was playing or sitting on the bench. His attitude has always been upbeat and positive. He had his moments, as any kid would, so for us, his parents, we got to see the “broken hearted” part of him as he occasionally shared his inner most feelings only behind closed doors. All those around Sam would have never guessed how he truly felt.

As the years progressed, Sam was noticed more and more by his fellow players and their parents for his goalie skills. When Sam was unfairly not chosen to play in a game or tournament, I can’t tell you how many times we had parents approach us saying “Why aren’t they playing Sam? He should be the one in the goal!” or “If they would have let Sam play like he was supposed to, we would have won!” On a regular basis, we heard these comments and many others from frustrated team parents and the players themselves would say the same things directly to Sam. Sam would just nod and take it as a compliment but he knew there was nothing he could do. With the players and their parents inquiring to Sam all the time, Sam felt obligated to at least ask the coaches “why”. Asking never helped, it would simply make the coaches irritated when being called out on it. All of the politics just caused Sam more frustration. Sam learned to simply “let it go”. Decisions were made by coaches for reasons we’ll never really never know the truth about, as it also happens in many of our youth sports associations.

Finally, in Sam’s 9th grade year, he played in the MN State Hockey tournament. They played against some amazing teams and he was finally able to show everyone what he had to offer.

Game ending win!! (20 sec)

After the tournament, a hockey scout approached the coach with an invite for Sam to come try out for an advanced team in Wisconsin. The coach pulled us and Sam aside, gave us the scout invite certificate and at the same time told us that since Sam was the only one that was scouted out from the entire team, he was to keep it to himself and not tell any of the other players or feelings would get hurt. We felt that if it would have been given to the “other goalie” or one of the “star players”, this comment of “keeping to yourself” would have never been brought up. Sam finally felt some justification for his efforts and his talent and then was unable to share his exciting news with all of his friends and teammates. This was another moment of how Sam rose above and did what he was told, kept it to himself, all awhile keeping that big “Sam Smile” on his face.

Sam getting scouted out that year opened many doors. For starters, the contact that he now had in WI called Sam before the next season started to let him know that they were looking for a goalie and wanted to know if he would be interested. Sam didn’t even consider it as he knew we couldn’t afford for him to move out of state to play hockey and all the expenses that came along with it. He didn’t even tell me about it and proceeded to start high school at home where he planned to try out for JV or Varsity for his 10th grade year. The summer before 10th grade was when tryouts were held. Sam made it clear to us that although tryouts hadn’t even started, the goalies were already decided for the JV and Varsity teams so he knew he didn’t stand a chance. (Obviously if that’s the case, there were politics involved. Why would a coach choose players before seeing what all of their abilities are?) We continued to try to build his confidence and remind him that he’s good enough and deserves a chance just like anyone else and not to rule it out without at least giving it his best try. Well, tryouts were to last for a few days as they would narrow down the players. Sam came home early the very first day and it was an “I told you so” moment. They cut Sam before he got a chance to show what he was capable of. It was almost like they weren’t concerned about appearing like there was favoritism going on. This not only broke our hearts but it left Sam with one option, to play on the consolation team through the Youth Hockey Arena. I went to the parent meeting and it was devastating. A verbal fight broke out between the parents and the coaches at the meeting and the heated discussion was passionate parents wanting to have their pick of which teams the kids would play on. Their reasoning was, some of their kids didn’t really have a passion for hockey, they didn’t want the kids to be competitive, and they just wanted to have fun with their friends. The coaches were overpowered by loud yelling parents and decisions were made so that certain “friends” or “groups of parents” could be together for travel events etc. It was stated that it just doesn’t matter if we win any games. Personally, when I left, I felt Sam’s hockey passion, his work ethic and all the years of practice and dedication was slowly deteriorating before my eyes. This was not the place for him nor was this negative atmosphere a place for me as a parent.

I had a long talk with him, I cried a lot and he agreed wholeheartedly that this team was not the place for him. He then took it upon himself to call the contact he had originally been approached by in regards to the WI team that was interested in him, even though it was well beyond tryout time, he wanted to see if there was a chance. The WI team was no longer looking for a goalie but they happened to know that a Las Vegas (Nevada Storm) team had just cut one of their goalies and there was another goalie flying in to try out for the position. They contacted the coach and the Las Vegas team was willing to let him try out at the same time as the other goalie. This was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, tryouts would be Friday. This was the fork in the road for Sam and any possibility of serious hockey in his future. At barely 16 years old, my little boy was asking me if he could fly to Vegas the next day, miss being with the family for Thanksgiving and try out for this team. My heart said no but since I had very little time to think about what this really would mean, I said I’d let him go. This was a very easy and at the same time, a very hard decision to make as a mother. After that parent meeting gone bad, it made it much easier, but knowing my little boy would be flying across the country alone made my heart break into a million pieces.

I thought to myself, he’ll be back on Sunday and we can figure things out then if need be. Ohhhh was I wrong. The good news and the moment that Sam’s life changed forever was after tryouts I received a phone call with… “Mom, I made the team!” The joy I felt hearing that boys excitement after picking up the pieces for so many years was unexplainable. But the next statement definitely blindsided me…”Mom, they have a big tournament coming up and they want me to stay and start playing right away, can you just mail all my clothes and stuff?” This was a moment that I was not ready for and emotionally didn’t know how to handle. We didn’t even really get to say goodbye. I felt my little boy slipping through my fingers and the only way I could stop it would be to crush his world so I chose to be supportive and do what Sam always did over the years, smile and “let it go.” This was a defining moment for both his dad and I, we decided that we would figure it out and not let this opportunity pass him by. He’s worked hard for it, been very patient and he’s earned it. Although something like this is not something that either of us could really afford and we knew it would be a struggle, I’ve always been a believer that things happen for a reason. We felt something beyond our control was happening here. Sam was meant to have this chance to prove himself, show what he’s capable of and continue to pursue his ultimate passion.

Sam and I have always been very close, he was pretty much a “momma’s boy” at the time he left and I was not ready for him to leave me for good. Luckily at the time, I didn’t realize that he would be. I’m glad for that, because I may not have let him go. This Las Vegas team, the different opportunities he has had, the practice and training he’s gotten, the families and friends he has made are all such treasures in his life now and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I miss waking up to my little boy every day, I’m missing a lot of those “firsts” in his life that a mother needs but just knowing how happy he is makes it so much easier and I focus on how proud I am of the amazing young man he’s turned into.

It’s been 1 ½ years since he first left and he has continued to turn heads and people have been once again talking about him.

Heres a prime example from March 2017 (30 sec)

The hockey system in Las Vegas and the new people around him have been a great asset in building his confidence. We notice a complete difference in him since he’s had such a positive and fair surrounding for a while. It was that confidence that led him to the place he is now. He had no help in his quest to try out for higher level teams. He did the research, made the contacts, got in his car, drove alone to California from Vegas, arranged where he would stay and attended tryouts all on his own. Without his new found confidence, he would have never in a million years even thought he had what it takes, let alone make the huge efforts it took for him to go to these tryouts. He once again left us in a state of shock when he called to let us know that he “made the team”. Not only are we proud of his efforts, proud that he made a team like this but he is willing to once again start over and leave the new wonderful life he’s created in Vegas, the familiar, the comfortable and the people he cares about there to pursue his passion of hockey even further.

But… the part that has not been an easy conversation is the cost of the journey. Higher level teams come with higher level costs and over the past couple years. It has been a constant struggle to support his hockey career. When they say that hockey is a sport for the wealthy, there’s a reason. Sam has been very patient with us knowing that he can’t have the best, knowing that most of the kids around him are going to have more than he will or will most likely have “better” than he will but he’s been ok with settling for what we’re able to afford. He knows we’re not in the same level of wealth as most of the players and families around him and he understands for the most part. I know it gets challenging at times because he is still just a kid trying to make sense of all of it but we’re proud that does his best to keep it real. This new team is a great possibility for Sam to get a college scholarship. We are really hoping that we’re able to help in whatever way we can. He has the commitment and does all the real hard work. We just need to figure out how to pay for it so he’s able to continue.

The one thing we DO know is that his option to play for his home high school team again is gone regardless of what the need is for goalies at this time. They told us when Sam first left that once he plays for another team somewhere that he will not be “qualified” to play on our high school Varsity team for 2 years after returning. Since we were told that, we have heard from multiple parents that there ARE kids currently playing for Varsity that didn’t have that 2 yr wait, so sounds like the hockey program has its own set of rules and decides when and where to apply them. In a nutshell, Sam’s opportunity for coming home his senior year would be the absolute end of hockey for him and that is not something that he or any of us are ready for. He has too much promise and has come too far to let that happen.

Sam deserves this opportunity not only for his amazing talents as a hockey goalie but his upstanding personality and his love for all those around him. We have no doubt that with Sam’s determination and abilities; he will continue to amaze us all. Hopefully with the help of all of Sam’s support system and anyone touched by his story, we will be able to pull together and keep his doors of opportunity open so he’s able to continue his journey.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read Sams story.

Please share this with everyone you can, we would really appreciate any help at all!
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Sam had his 1st games this past weekend for both of the teams he's playing for. He played the entire HS game and won with a shutout 10-0. He played 1/2 of the game for his Jr Reign team against the Anaheim Ducks and only let in one goal, they lost 2-3 in the end but Sam received "Player of the Game" for that one!! Awesome start to his new venture! Way to go Sam!!
St Bosco AAA VarsIty HS Game
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Thank you for all the donations & shares, the last anonymous donation of $100 brought us to our first milestone of getting Sam's uniforms for one of the teams, the uniforms cost is $837. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone for the help! Sam is relieved that he won't be skating naked! Haha
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Here are some of the recent comments we've received. Thank you to everyone for the donations and/or shares. The support is simply amazing to see! thank you so much!
Recent comments received... thank you!!
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Raised by 25 people in 16 months
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