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Friends for Life

Friday, 10.12.2012 / 10:30 AM ET / News
San Antonio Rampage
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Friends for Life
Rampage defenseman Nolan Yonkman with the Medrano family (San Antonio Rampage)

By Ken Rodriguez, SARampage.com/Spurs.com

The anniversary came upon Nolan Yonkman suddenly, a rush of warmth and sadness mingled with memories that sparkle: bowling, go-karts, video games. Her name was Yadira -- Yadira Medrano -- and she was 8-years-old when they met, 9 when she departed and he misses her a lot.

Yonkman last saw her here at the Ice Center at Northwoods, where they took in a preseason Rampage game together. Yonkman, a defenseman, did not play. Instead, he sat in the stands with the little girl and her parents and marveled at her strength.

Yardira had lost her left leg, just above the knee, to osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor.

The malignancy had spread through her body. Now there she was, after chemotherapy and radiation, after special treatments in Houston, lifting Yonkman with a luminous smile from her wheelchair.

It was Saturday Oct. 1, 2011. Three days later, she was gone. On Saturday Oct. 6, Yonkman was back at the rink, reflecting, a 3-0 preseason loss to the Texas Stars eclipsed by the memory of a remarkable girl. “She impacted my life,” Yonkman was saying, and the words did not come easily.

They met in 2010 through Face-Off Against Kids Cancer, a Rampage program that matches players with children from the Centers for Oncology and Blood Disorders at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital.

Yonkman impressed with his physique (6-foot-6, 251 pounds) and good looks. “Yadira fell in love with him,” says her father, Juan Medrano, a meat cutter for H-E-B. Yadira impressed with her spunk and spirit. “The first thing I noticed,” Yonkman says, “was the spark in her eye.”

They became fast friends, laughing, sharing pizza, enjoying arcades. The Medranos took Yadira to Rampage games. Yonkman visited with her parents and brothers afterwards. He and Yadira exchanged phone calls and text messages. Yonkman and the Medranos took in a rodeo. They dined together. He became part of the family.

“I was amazed at how happy she was,” Yonkman says. “She made me realize how much I have and how I should never take things for granted.”

She was a cheerleader, 7-years-old, all pep and energy. One day her left knee grew sore and swollen. The initial diagnosis: a sprain from cheerleading. The swelling continued. The pain intensified. An X-ray showed a large piece of bone missing. That’s when they knew.

Juan and Yadira -- mother and daughter share the same name -- did what they could. Their daughter battled, and Spurs Sports & Entertainment helped, with a contribution toward Yadira's medical expenses.

The Medranos remain grateful. SS&E provided financial assistance, Yonkman provided an emotional lift. Thirteen months after their little girl met him, they held a funeral. Yonkman looked in the casket. His eyes grew wide. There, beside the body, were photographs, pictures of him and Yadira. There was a bobblehead doll of Yonkman. A hockey stick. A puck he had given her.

“That was pretty emotional,” he says.

Yonkman did not know the Medranos wanted Yadira to take a part of him with her. He uses words like “honored” and “impacted” to describe what he felt but they are inadequate. All he knows is that he could not let go of the family. So he continues to call and visit, and the Medranos don’t want him to stop. They had him over last Christmas. They attend his games.

“We became season ticket-holders,” Juan says, “because of Yadira and Nolan. She had so much fun with him. We have tons of pictures of them. He’s a really neat guy.”

At 31, Yonkman is the Rampage’s oldest player. He served as captain last season and no one will be surprised if he fills the same role this season. He mentors the younger guys, provides a veteran’s perspective, leads by example, and not just about hockey. 

Yonkman connects with people in pain. He can make a dying girl laugh. He can put a smile on hurting parents. He can use his gift to lift a family as a little girl once lifted him. The Medranos, Yonkman will tell you, are special people.

“They are friends,” he says, “for life.”

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
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