18U All-Star goalie Lakin overcomes family crisis to lead talented California Jr. Reign
January 10, 2019
Guilford, Conn. - The sting from the stunning news seemed as painful as stopping a slap shot under his pad. His mom had cancer.
East Coast Elite League all-star goaltender Justin Lakin was just entering his second season as backstop for the 18U Ontario Junior Reign last September when his family was rocked by the reality of his mom, Laurie, being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and required a bone marrow transplant.
“I was really just shocked,” says Justin, 17, a high school senior from Lake Elsinore, Calif. “I didn’t know what to think about it.”
The shockwave wasn’t contained to just his immediate family either; it also reached his extended one.
Laurie had recently volunteered to serve as team manager for the Junior Reign, so she is not only well known by every player on the roster but their families as well. As a result, her diagnosis and treatment has been something the whole team has been dealing with for practically the entire 2018-19 ECEL season.
“Laurie became a manager mainly because of her dedication to the team and Junior Reign organization over the years and her unconditional willingness to help in any matter possible,” says Tomas Kapusta, program director and 18U head coach. “However, as soon as the AAA season started, she became ill and couldn’t perform this position. Nevertheless, her courage and spirit marked this team and she became a model of bravery and perseverance for everyone.”
Playing hockey also developed into a sanctuary for Justin while his mother began to boldly fight the disease, and that dedicate approach has paid off for the first-place Junior Reign. Playing every minute of the season, he owns a 1.75 goals-against average in 8 starts with a league-best 7 victories and a superb .932 save percentage.
“Playing hockey is really the only time I get to just put everything aside and enjoy myself,” admits Justin, who was selected MVP of his high school club last year. “Keeping busy and hanging out with teammates allows me not to worry as much.”
His coach insists that despite the valid potential distraction, Lakin has proven to be the key to the Junior Reign’s success, including posting a 4-0 record during the Nov. 30-Dec. 2 ECEL Holiday Classic showcase in Northford, CT. With Laurie at home undergoing treatments, Justin’s parents were forced to watch his standout performance via live stream back on the West Coast as Ontario posted two 1-goal victories as well as his first ECEL shutout win of the year.
“I was very concern about Justin, mainly how he will take this overwhelming emotional situation and how he will respond to it,” Kapusta says. “Laurie was taking Justin to every game and every practice, and I wasn’t sure what will happen next. However, Justin’s dad stepped in and took the lead on taking Justin to all the events. Justin himself responded with devoting himself to hockey even more and became a cornerstone of our team throughout the entire season. I believe that hockey became Justin’s emotional refuge.”
Lakin will suit up for Team Terriers in the ECEL All-Star Game at Northeastern University’s historic Matthews Arena prior to attempting to keep Ontario atop the division standings during the ECEL Winter Classic showcase in Hingham, MA.
“I want to just keep having fun and pulling out the close wins,” says Lakin regarding his outlook for the rest of the season. “And for my mom to continue watching me play. All those hours on the road with her, I just want the best.”