Florida Panthers Facebook Florida Panthers Twitter Florida Panthers Google+ Florida Panthers Pintrest Florida Panthers Instagram Florida Panthers
 
 
  • PRINT
  • RSS

Friends for Life

Friday, 10.12.2012 / 10:30 AM ET / News
San Antonio Rampage
X
Share with your Friends


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.”

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 52 17 23 14 40
J. Huberdeau 55 11 29 12 40
J. Jokinen 55 11 27 12 38
V. Trocheck 55 17 18 3 35
A. Barkov 43 16 19 13 35
R. Smith 55 18 16 12 34
B. Pirri 51 11 13 -3 24
A. Ekblad 51 11 13 19 24
B. Campbell 55 5 18 20 23
N. Bjugstad 40 9 10 -3 19
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 24 13 5 .927 2.23
A. Montoya 8 4 1 .926 2.06

 
FloridaPanthers.com is the official Web site of the Florida Panthers. Florida Panthers and floridapanthers.com are trademarks of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks and NHL Draft name and logo are trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2016 Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.