Lockport freshman leans on hockey to help cope with tough personal life
By Ross Forman
Hockey is his happy place, where Noah Neiheisel is comfortable, always relaxed and content, always striving to improve.
“I go on the ice and just think of hockey,” he said. “Of course there are all sorts of life lessons hidden in the game of hockey … you just need to figure out what they are.”
Neiheisel, 15, who lives in Homer Glen and is a freshman at Lockport High School, is a forward for the Vikings 16U team, his first season with the Orland Park organization. He also played this season for the co-op Spartans, a mix of players from Lockport, Lemont, Bolingbrook and Romeoville High Schools.
“Hockey is my outlet place. I can go to the rink or even shoot (pucks) in the driveway just to clear my head if I need to,” Neiheisel said. “Hockey has helped me make so many friends and create family. It also helps that I love the game and I get into it. I don’t just do the drills and forget about it; I think about it and think of how I could use this in a game situation.”
Hockey also is part-therapy for Neiheisel, a remedy of sorts from a personal life that has been … rough, to say the least.
On October 13, 2014, his mom committed suicide. “This has impacted me in such a big way,” he said. “You would not have been able to guess that my mom would be the one to do this; she had a happy life. (So), to see that it had to end this way is so sad because she had many more years ahead of her and now she won’t be there physically to see any of her kids’ big achievements in life.”
Neiheisel, who was living in Hickory Hills at the time, said his mom “was addicted to drugs.”
His dad, meanwhile, “hasn’t been there throughout my life,” he said.
“When my parents first got divorced we still went to his house to see him, but that stopped when I was younger. All throughout my life he hasn’t been there for anything, hasn’t tried to come back into my life for a good 10 years,” Neiheisel said.
And his step-dad, “was abusive to my mom,” he said. “They got into a simple argument that turned violent really quick. It’s a hard to see when you’re 11 years-old and the cops are at your house for something your step-father did to your mom.” Neiheisel said the abuse extended to himself too, plus his younger siblings. “He was always a negative influence in my life with the abuse and the constant yelling (that) he did,” Neiheisel said.
Noah often was the parent, of sorts, for his sister, Lily, now 12; and Seth, now 9. That meant Noah often helped his siblings with their homework, did their laundry, made meals for all – for breakfast lunch and dinner. Plus, he woke them up for school in the mornings and did their dishes, along with his own, after dinner.
“It’s tough having to grow up so fast so that your siblings don’t have to,” he said. “My childhood ended at age 8 so that my sibling’s childhood didn’t have to.
“I just tried to help them in every way. Everybody is going to cope differently, so I just tried to be there for them. They didn’t really know why I was being the parent of sorts because they didn’t understand the situation fully, so I didn’t explain it to them. I figured it would be better if they didn’t know.”
Neiheisel started going to therapy at age 12 and immediately after his mom’s passing, he moved in, along with his siblings, with his aunt and uncle. That’s when they encouraged, almost insisted, that Noah be a kid again – not the parent.
“The goal of therapy was to learn different ways of how to cope with this great loss,” Neiheisel said. “The (biggest) thing I got out of therapy was try to talk about it to someone and try to keep busy in case you didn’t want to think about it.”
Hockey has always been a constant for Neiheisel, who learned to skate at 5, first played hockey at 6, and was on his first hockey team at age 7. Neiheisel, who shoots right-handed, previously played two years for the Arctic Fury house team and also skated for the St. Jude Knights.
“The lowest point for me would be the first year of learning how to cope with this loss, and learning how to deal with the thoughts and feelings I have,” he said. “Today, I am in a good spot with my aunt and uncle, because they push me to be the best I (can) be in hockey. (Another) uncle, George, has helped a ton, (too). He signs me up for hockey camps at Michigan State, takes me to get new equipment when I need it, is always there for me. My aunt and uncle (who I live with) do a tremendous amount of things for me too, such as helping with school work, helping with hockey, and how to get better. They support my decisions in life.”
To that, his short-term goal is to attend Michigan State University, get a degree in criminal justice and play hockey for Michigan State.
Long-term, he wants to play in the NHL.
“People always say that only about 6 percent of hockey players make it, and I respond, ‘Someone has to be in the 6 percent.’ I believe I can make it there because I always skate hard and give my all in practices,” he said.
Neiheisel always sees the glass as half-full, and encourages other struggling youngsters to look at the positives.
“I would (tell others to) just keep your heads up, everything will happen for a reason and the best is yet to come,” he said. “If you can join a club or a sport, (do so).
“Hockey has helped me tremendously … hockey is my happy place.”
Slapshots With … Noah Neiheisel
Jersey Number: 74
Favorite NHL Team: Las Vegas Golden Knights
Favorite NHL player: Andrew Shaw
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Baseball
Favorite Pro Athlete: Wayne Gretzky
Favorite app: Netflix
Favorite TV Show: Impractical Jokers
Favorite Sports Movie: The Sandlot
Hardest Slapshot on your Team: Brian Tadevich
Teammate Who Someday Will Make a Great Coach: Payton Bruns
Best Local Youth and/or HS Jersey (other than your team): Bloomington Thunder
Worst Local Youth and/or HS Jersey (other than your team): Jaguars
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.