WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The hockey journey for Matteo Gennaro, like most Canadians, started a young age.
The native of St. Albert, a city in Alberta, Canada says he has been playing the sport since he was three years old.
“I was just introduced to it by my Dad, he just had me out skating at a really young age, just found a love for the sport,” said Gennaro.
Gennaro is in his first year with the Wichita Thunder. The forward has helped lead the Thunder to seven wins in their first 10 games.
Part of his determination on the ice comes through tragedy.
It was April 6, 2018, a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team was struck by a westbound semi-trailer truck at an intersection in Saskatchewan.
Sixteen people aboard the bus died, including Gennaro’s lifelong friend, Stephen Wack.
“He was my best friend from back home, another fellow St. Albert kid, I think I was as shocked as the whole hockey world,” said Gennaro.
Gennaro would return home shortly after finding out the news.
“I remember flying home right after a game and going to that vigil, I spoke on behalf of Stephen,” said Gennaro. “He was a pretty special person, extremely talented in all aspects of life, he wasn’t just a hockey player, that didn’t define him.”
Even after almost three year, the void left by losing his best friend hasn’t gone away.
“He was my closest friend on this earth, and I don’t think that he will ever be replaced,” said Gennaro.
He has used the tragedy as motivation to succeed every time he steps foot on the ice, with Wack never too far from his mind.
“Absolutely, I have a little writing on my stick with his initials,” said Gennaro.
While he continues his hockey career, he says he hopes he’s making his best friend proud, along the way.
“I’m doing my best and he wouldn’t want me to be sad, really let that affect my goals and aspirations in my hockey career, I think he wants the best for me,” said Gennaro.
Gennaro and the Thunder will hit the ice again Friday night to take on his old team, the Rapid City Rush.
Puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m. at Intrust Bank Arena.