Prep star's mark goes beyond hockey
BURNSVILLE, Minn. -- At the tender age of 15, Hudson Fasching stands 6-foot-3, weighs 200 pounds and is considered one of the top high school players in Minnesota.
As a freshman, Fasching led his Apple Valley High team to an unexpected berth in the prestigious state hockey tournament and is expected to do so again next month as a sophomore. He is an elite soccer player whose high school team is on a 47-0 run that includes two state championships. He was undefeated in junior varsity tennis, essentially without having picked up a racket before the tennis season began.
All of this would make Fasching an interesting and compelling tale.
And when he is eligible to be drafted into the National Hockey League in three years, maybe you'll remember the name. We will, but not for the reasons you might imagine.
When Hudson was 2 years old, his younger brother Cooper was born. For six weeks, Cooper's life followed the normal track of newborns. But one day, he began to blow bubbles, and after a trip to the emergency ward, doctors rushed to test the infant boy. They discovered abnormal brain activity and doctors diagnosed that Cooper was suffering from a mitochondrial disorder. While the exact causes aren't known -- according to various sources, about one in 4,000 children will be effected by some mitochondrial disorder by the time they are 10 -- Cooper, now 13, is unable to walk or talk.
A year later, after the parents were told that a second child suffering from the same condition would be a one-in-a-million likelihood, Hudson's sister Mallory was born. For six weeks, Mallory likewise showed no signs of abnormality. But one day, she began to vomit and an EEG revealed Mallory, like Cooper, was suffering from abnormal brain activity. Mallory, now 12, can't walk or talk.
Hudson's father, Rick, said he burst into tears in a company meeting when he learned the news about Mallory.
"It was devastating," Hudson's mother, Shannon, said.
The disorder manifests itself in different ways in different people. Although Mallory and Cooper are alike, they are also different; Cooper being rigid while Mallory is more malleable. Even their coughs are different.
For Hudson, many of his childhood memories are of hospitals, playing with sick kids as his parents tried to find out what was wrong with their two youngest children and what could be done to help them.
Today, Mallory and Cooper attend a special class at a local public school. They learn to use eye movement to indicate choices they are making.
"But we don't know how much they understand about the choices they're making," Shannon said.
In the backyard of the family's comfortable, suburban Twin Cities home, there is a sturdy hockey goal filled with pucks and lights for nighttime target shooting. There is also what looks like the Apple Valley High School logo on the flooring. But it's actually the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers' logo, it's just backward when you're looking at it from the house.
Rick, a native Minnesotan, acknowledges he probably should have had the logo facing the other way. Hudson and Shannon give each other knowing looks. It is not the first time the topic has come up, but this is life in the Fasching household.
There are no slip covers on the furniture. There are no filters on conversation, whether it's Mallory and Cooper or Rick's baldness (it takes about a minute for the lack of coverage on Rick's dome to come up when he arrives home from work at LG Electronics, where he is a sales representative), or how the lines of parenting are drawn.
"She does grades, my dad does sports," Hudson said.
Shannon did recall taking Hudson to his first hockey practice. Hudson was 5 and Rick was out of town. Shannon was watching the other mothers to see what order the gear went on.
"We put his skates on first," she said.
Hudson went on the ice and immediately fell.
"He cried and cried and cried," Shannon said.
"It was horrendous," Hudson recalled.
"I called his dad and I said, 'Rick, I don't think hockey is going to be his sport,'" Shannon recalled with a grin.
But the next time practice rolled around, Hudson was insistent that they go.
"He was determined to figure it out," she said.
Gradually, Hudson went from being a crying boy to a competent player to the boy that other parents began to talk about at the rink. His high school coach, Jerry Hayes, first saw Hudson play when he was in fifth grade. Hudson, at the time, had long hair.
"I thought he was a girl," Hayes said. "Don't tell him I said that. I was, like, 'Who's that girl? She's pretty good.'"
One day, Hudson returned home perplexed after playing hockey with a friend. The boy and his brother began wrestling and playing as brothers do, and Hudson asked his parents why the two boys were fighting. He has never wrestled with his brother or sister. Instead, they will snuggle on the couch and watch a movie.
In a recent television interview, Shannon explained Hudson is a "cuddler" by nature. "That's what he did with his brother and sister," she said.
Hudson groans and covers his eyes in mock embarrassment. Yes, the "cuddler" reference did come up a couple of times at school, he admitted. But from the beginning, Hudson was always happy to help his brother and sister, whether it's at home or helping them get into various hockey rinks around the state.
"He's never been embarrassed by his brother or sister and I'm very proud of that," Shannon said.
Hudson looks mildly surprised at the nature of the conversation. Until this moment, he said, it has never occurred to him that he might be embarrassed by his siblings' handicaps.
"The thought never occurred to me until you just said that," Hudson said.
It is heartbreaking for a parent to deny a child anything.
For Rick and Shannon, to deny their son a sibling he could play with, a sibling he could communicate with and share childhood with, was difficult for a long time. Shannon wondered what people thought when they saw the family coming to hockey games, their two handicapped children wedging themselves through doors to watch Hudson play.
Was she a careless mom? Reckless? How did this happen?
Shannon recently went on vacation with her mother and they talked about their family; her mother wanted to know if she was still angry about what had happened. The simple answer to a hard question is no.
"I haven't been angry in a long time," she said. "People can think what they want. I would have Mallory again. Every day. Cooper and Mallory are who they are and we love them for who they are."
"We don't know them any different than who they are," Rick added.
For Hudson, growing up with Cooper and Mallory has helped form the core of his character.
"He's always been sensitive in a good way and cognizant of the fact that his brother and sister are handicapped," Rick said.
He also understands the gifts he has been given -- gifts that were denied to Mallory and Cooper.
"I could be them. They could be me," Hudson explained. "That kind of drives me to be more successful."
As a 14-year-old freshman, Hudson was one of the youngest players to take part in the state tournament. He uses his size well and has a terrific hockey IQ, Hayes said.
"I hate to say it, but he has an NHL body," the coach added.
Hudson was one of the top players on a team that ended up playing in front of more than 18,000 fans at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. A framed picture in the Faschings' basement shows the Apple Valley team lined up for the national anthem. Hudson can be seen on the video scoreboard above the ice.
"You just stand there in awe. Oh my God, you just keep turning and turning and there's still people everywhere," Hudson recalled.
When his son came out onto the ice, "I thought I literally might have a heart attack. I was so amped up," Rick said.
Talk to any of the top scouts or agents in the business and they know of Hudson Fasching. He has been invited to join USA Hockey's national team development program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and is being courted by major junior hockey clubs from the Canadian Hockey League.
Through Apple Valley's first 25 games (they are 18-6-1 heading into playoffs), Hudson has 16 goals and 29 assists for 45 points.
Not too long ago, a schoolmate asked Hudson for his autograph after a game. Hudson thought the boy was joking. But after Hudson changed and showered, the boy, who'd actually played with Hudson a couple of years earlier, was still waiting outside the locker room.
"I was like, 'Dude, you were on my team,'" Hudson said.
One of Hudson's school assignments is to write a paper about a keepsake. He is writing about his first custom hockey stick. Hudson described watching HBO's "24/7" series on the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Can he imagine himself being like the rookies in the series, whose hotel room gets moved into the hallway by their teammates?
He smiled. "I guess I use that to drive me, but it's definitely surreal," he said.
As a parent, you always want your child to be happy, to be successful, Rick said.
"But you never think he's going to be 'that' kid. It's surreal to me to see that he's considered to be one of the top forwards in the United States for his age. It's mind-boggling to me," Rick said.
Despite the attention, Hudson seems oblivious to it. At parent-teacher conferences, Hudson's instructors tell his parents he remains attentive and humble. "I try to act the same. I don't act differently," he said.
If anything, people who wondered why he would go to bed early to get ready for early practices understand now why he was doing what he was doing. "People treat me differently, but I don't think I act differently," he said.
But his happy demeanor belies a deeply competitive side. "He is the most competitive person you will ever meet," Shannon said.
When he was young and learning to play cribbage, Hudson would burst into tears if he lost. "Don't get me started on card games," he said.
He views much of his life, including grades, as a competition that must be won. Getting good grades -- he is a straight-A student -- "it's like winning for me."
If you spend any time at all with Hudson, you have to believe "the world is his oyster" was a phrase meant with him in mind.
Does he go to Ann Arbor and join the NTDP?
Does he stay and try for more outings at the Xcel Energy Center as a high school star?
Does he opt for the major junior hockey route that would mean moving to a place like Kelowna, British Columbia?
He is only 15, so it is far too soon to anoint Hudson Fasching as anything but what he is: a teenage boy with many gifts and many options.
But here's what makes us happy to have shared time with Hudson Fasching and his family: whatever lies in front of him has everything to do with what surrounds him now.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.