Earlier this month, all eyes were on center ice in Yost Arena, the home of Michigan Wolverines hockey.
The reason: A special guest, former University of Michigan hockey player Scott Matzka — with his daughter Reese, pictured above, and his wife and son Owen watching — dropped the ceremonial puck to begin the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Awareness Game.
Matzka, now 38, played for U-M from 1997 to 2001, assisting on the goal that clinched the 1998 NCAA championship. After graduating from U-M in 2001 and playing professional hockey in the U.S. and Europe, he retired in 2012 to pursue a business career.
Just three years later, Matzka was diagnosed with ALS.
A progressive disease, ALS degrades and eventually kills the motor neurons that control movement, speech, swallowing and breathing. About 6,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year — 15 new cases a day — according to the ALS Association.
There is no cure for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In the 77 years since the baseball great the disease is named after retired, only one FDA-approved drug (Rilutek) has been shown to be modestly effective in slowing its progression. On average, patients survive three to five years, the ALS Association says. More than half live three years or longer after diagnosis; 10 percent survive 10 years or beyond.