By Ross Forman
Joey Kasch was ready to take a swing on the 9th hole of a surprise Father’s Day round of golf for his dad, Mark. Joey was joined at Billy Caldwell Golf Course on Chicago’s north side by his brothers Tommy, Danny and Jimmy.
“I was on the fairway, hoping to hit the ball on the green,” Joey recalled. “As I looked down to focus on the ball, (I) just heard a ‘Boom’ and the force knocked me down to the ground right away.”
Joey, 13, had been struck in the face by another golfer’s errant shot. “My whole face felt numb; my eye was stinging, throbbing and bleeding; and my heart was freaking out a lot more than I was,” he said. “I saw all these blurry lights that were different colors in my head and I refused to open either of my eyes.”
At first, he couldn’t open his left eye, which endured the majority of the impact of the ball.
“I heard a ringing in my ear,” Joey said. “It took me a little while to realize what the heck was going on.”
He was immediately attended to, asked if he was OK.
“My stomach felt nauseous; my heart was going ballistic, and I was in excruciating pain,” he said. “The thing is, the pain I was feeling wasn’t something really describable like a paper cut that stings. It wasn’t a measurable pain like getting pinches.
“The pain I felt was indescribable and unbelievable.”
Kasch was loaded on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to Resurrection Hospital, then transferred to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
The first two days after the accident “may have been the worst two days of my life,” he said.
Kasch lives in Park Ridge and is a goalie for the Glenview Stars CSDHL Bantam Minor team this season. He previously has played for the Niles Rangers and Wilmette Braves. He sports jersey No. 30 out of respect for Martin Brodeur and is an eighth-grader at Lincoln Middle School in Park Ridge.
He will attend Maine South next year and then skate for the co-op Maine Hockey team.
“I’m glad (the golf incident) is now behind me and I can focus on sports, school and friends,” said Joey, who comes from a long line of hockey players in his family.
His oldest brother, Tommy, 26, lives in Charlotte N.C., and played for the Niles Rangers and Express until he was a bantam. He wrestled in high school and college. Billy Kasch, 24, lives at Misericordia and played one season of hockey for the Tomahawks. Danny (19) played for the Niles Rangers, Glenview Stars, Express and Maine Township. Jimmy (18) is a freshman and plays at the University of Kentucky; he used to play for the Niles Rangers, Express, Glenview Stars and Maine Township. Jimmy is still Maine’s all-time leading scorer.
“When I first got hit (by the golf ball), I was surprised – a scared surprise like when you see a pop up of a creepy person on a video game or a You Tube video or something,” Joey said. “Then, as soon as the pain kicked in, I felt uncomfortable and right away I thought to myself, ‘This is never going to stop hurting.’
Joey suffered a fractured orbital bone, endured a concussion, and needed six stitches on his cheekbone.
“I was bleeding in my eye; I had a hole in my retina, based (on) the impact and (had) quite a black eye. I also had a bloody nose, but I wasn’t too worried about that,” he said.
Joey spent two nights in the hospital.
“The recovery couldn’t have been better, but I have to admit that I had a large amount of obstacles and struggles along the way,” he said. “After my two weeks of not exercising at all and laying low, I was able to run around. (But), I wasn’t able to last more than five minutes.
“Throughout the whole (experience), I had a lot of support from my friends and family and I also grew a really strong faith in God. Hoping that my eyes and vision could heal as much as possible and get to as (good) as it possibly could be.
“I remember the first time stepping on to the ice (after the accident), my pads didn’t feel the same; my skates felt rusty and watching the puck come to me felt like moving pictures instead of one. It was a slow adjustment, but I am starting to get back to normal with my stamina, athletic ability and coordination. I’m more than happy now doing what I love.”
Joey’s hockey teammates sent him text messages of support throughout the journey, and many visited.
“I love hockey and have had to work harder to get used to seeing the puck with different vision,” he said.
Nicolas Botvinnik has been teammates with Joey for several seasons. “The most impressive thing about Joey is how you simply wouldn’t know how hard he works, what he’s overcome, and the challenges of goaltending because he doesn’t complain; he’s very easy going, polite, and good natured. When it comes time to practice or play, he just works hard and does the best he can no matter what. And he does it all with the friendliest smile,” said Alex Botvinnik, who is Nicolas’ dad.
Joey’s vision is now 20/200, but there’s a chance it will get better, he said.
“It was really tough and I was really scared that I might not be able to play hockey again. I have great teammates and they are helping me to get through this,” Joey said. “I have always dreamed of being in the NHL and wanted to be the best goalie I could be. I told my Mom and Dad that it will be a great story to tell when I make the NHL.”
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.
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