It’s been more than a week since their son Mitch died, but Gord and Debbie Fadden keep waiting for him to walk through the door of their home.
“He was a bright light every where he went,” Debbie said. “He lit up a room. He loved his family and his friends, and he told them all the time how much he cared about them. He called us almost every day.”
Mitch Fadden, 29, a former member of the Tri-City Americans hockey team, died in his sleep Dec. 3. His family and friends still are trying to make sense of it all.
“It shouldn’t be happening to someone so young,” Gord said. “Unfortunately, it’s part of life. It’s just hard to believe. It was always a treat to have him home. He had such a big smile. That’s what we’ll remember.”
There will be a memorial service for Fadden at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Salmon Arm (British Columbia) Community Centre.
“It’s kind of shocking,” said former Americans teammate Jarrett Toll. “It’s crazy that a guy that young leaves us so early. He was pretty carefree. He showed up and played his game. He was a fun guy off the ice, we hung out quite a bit.
“Unfortunately we didn’t keep in touch too much after that.”
A native of Victoria, British Columbia, Mitch Fadden played five seasons in the Western Hockey League for Seattle, Lethbridge and Tri-City. His final year was with the Americans, and he played a vital role in winning their second U.S. Division title during the 2008-09 season.
“He loved hockey since he first put skates on at 3 years old,” Gord said. “He had the walker to help with his balance, but by the time he was at the blue line, he pushed the walker away.”
Debbie said her son, who was working oil field construction at the time of his death, loved playing in the Tri-Cities, and they liked coming down to watch him play.
“I know (then coach) Don Nachbaur said he wished he’d had him sooner,” she said.
It was Nachbaur who reached out to a few of his former players, including Jason Reese, to let them know Fadden had died.
“I got a text from Donny that he had passed away in his sleep,” Reese said. “It was like, wow. I have never really lost a friend. We kind of got reacquainted on Facebook not long ago. It seems not so long ago that we were playing hockey, but to be 29 and die in your sleep is crazy. It was kind of a shock.
“I remember reading the text. Ten years ago we were playing hockey together, and now he’s gone. It’s just crazy. It’s sad.”
Mitch McColm, who played with Fadden for Lethbridge and Tri-City, said getting the news was shocking.
“When you hear from former teammates, they usually are telling you about a wedding or someone having kids,” said McColm, who will welcome a daughter in January. “It’s tough to make sense of. There’s still so much life ahead for us, and that was taken from his family. He was an amazing hockey player, but more importantly, he was a good guy.”
Mitch Fadden the hockey player
Fadden was a fifth-round bantam pick of the Thunderbirds in 2003. He made the roster at 16 and played 64 games his rookie year, scoring nine goals with 12 assists. Seattle won the U.S. Division title before losing in the second round of the playoffs.
Mid-way through his second year, Fadden was traded to the Hurricanes, where he scored 83 goals and 206 points over parts of three seasons. He scored 34 goals and 89 points during the 2007-08 season that saw the Hurricanes advance to the WHL finals.
The following season, Americans general manager Bob Tory swung a five player trade with Lethbridge. Tri-City moved veteran defenseman Eric Mestery and center Drew Hoff in exchange for Fadden and defensemen Cam Stevens and Brock Sutherland.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to get a player of Fadden’s ability, you have to take a serious look at it,” Tory said at the time. “We have added a premier player in Fadden to our lineup and have added depth to our blueline.”
Reese said he was ecstatic at the time to have Fadden join the Americans.
“He was the second-best 20-year-old in the league that season,” Reese said. “When we got him, he was coming off a big year in Lethbridge. I think we thought we were going to win it all that year. The things that guy could do on the ice were amazing. One of the most skilled guys I have played with.”
Fadden would scored 35 goals in 54 games for Tri-City, including the teddy bear goal in a 4-1 win over Calgary.
“It was apparent after the first game how good he was,” Toll said.
McColm said it was just as fun to play with Fadden as it was to watch him.
“He was really intense and hated to lose,” McColm said. “He loved hockey. He was emotional and he cared. He was a fan favorite. People were fortunate to watch him play.”
Fadden was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL draft by the Tampa Bay Lighting.
He played in the AHL and ECHL for three seasons before a medical condition — Protein S deficiency — ended his playing career. He was required to be on blood thinners because of his condition.
“They discovered he had blood clots when he was playing in Florida,” Gord said. “He was having a good year. He played a little bit after that. It took him some time after that to accept that his medical condition ended his career.”
Reese said he remembers the conversation he had with Fadden when his career ended.
“I was shocked when he told me had to retire because of blood clots,” Reese said. “I remember thinking he had so much skill, so much potential. I quit playing on my own, but to be told you can no longer play the sport you love, especially when you are in your prime, is hard. If not for that, I think he would still be playing.”
Debbie said they do not know if the blood clots played a part in his death.
“They still aren’t sure,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone, and knowing won’t bring him back.”
The Faddens said they and their son, Matt, have had an outpouring of support from friends and family. Debbie said if people want to remember their son, they can make a donation to Jumpstart, or any organization that helps kids, in his name.
The Jumpstart organization helps families who need a financial boost to get their kids involved in sports, dance or other activities.
Condolences to the family can to be sent to:
Gord and Debbie Fadden
860 35th St. SE
Salmon Arm, BC V1E 1N3