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Young fan puts off major surgery to follow UMD to Frozen Four

Sam Anderson, 13, of Hermantown, Minn., is putting off treatment for familial adenomatous polyposis, a type of colorectal cancer, until he can travel to watch the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team compete at the Frozen Four in Chicago this week. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 2
Sam, Chris and Nicole Anderson (from left to right) pose for a photo during the NCAA West Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D. Sam is scheduled to undergo surgery shortly after the Frozen Four to treat familial adenomatous polyposis, a condition that can cause colorectal cancer. Photo courtesy of Chris Anderson2 / 2

DULUTH — The 2017 NCAA Frozen Four will be a new experience for almost everyone on the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey roster, but thanks to the program's 2011 NCAA title run, much of the Bulldogs staff and fan base have been through it before.

That's especially true for 13-year-old Bulldogs fan Sam Anderson of Hermantown, Minn. He'll be one of the more experienced fans you'll run into this week in Chicago. The Duluth Marshall seventh-grader is a Frozen Four veteran. The Windy City will be his eighth trip to the NCAA hockey season's biggest event.

This year's Frozen Four will be extra special for Sam, and not just because his Bulldogs will be there taking on Harvard at 5 p.m. Thursday. The United Center is home to his favorite NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks, and home to his favorite professional hockey player, Patrick Kane.

Sam also is scheduled to undergo surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., within a week of Saturday's championship game that he hopes to see his Bulldogs win. Sam was born with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a hereditary condition that creates polyps in the colon. Eventually, those polyps can become cancerous.

After hundreds of polyps were discovered in Sam last May, his doctors decided it was best to remove his colon and rectum sooner rather than later. Doctors wanted to do the procedure last October, or possibly during Christmas break.

Sam asked if the surgery could be delayed until after the Frozen Four. The Bulldogs were coming off back-to-back trips to regional finals, and Sam had a hunch his favorite college hockey team could be playing at the home of his favorite professional team.

After receiving the OK from Sam's three surgeons, surgery was scheduled for April 2017 — after the Frozen Four.

"First thing I told them, 'April, after the Frozen Four, please. Please, I want to go to the Frozen Four,'" Sam said. "I thought maybe based on how we made it to the regional final and lost two years in a row, I thought it could happen. It's also in Chicago and I want to go to that. I remember thinking right away, 'I don't want to miss hockey. I don't want to miss anything important. I don't want to miss the Frozen Four.'"

Sam's first Frozen Four with his family was in Boston in 2004 when he was less than a year old. He's since been back to Boston, to Tampa, Fla., twice and to St. Paul, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Sam said he was a fan of Boston because of the seafood and Tampa for the warm weather.

No matter where the Frozen Four is, Sam said one of his favorite things to do is interact with all the fans that come from across the country, whether their school is playing or not.

"I remember the Frozen Four in 2011, there were Maine fans, there were Minnesota fans," Sam said of the year UMD won its lone title. "I think there was even a Western Michigan fan or two. It's fans from all over.

"Sometimes we see what's the farthest away team we can find."

Bulldogs fan from before birth

Sam's parents, Chris and Nicole, are big Bulldogs fans, so much so that when Nicole was pregnant with Sam, she would hold a radio tuned to KDAL to her womb so their future son could listen to Bulldogs games.

Within a month of his birth, Sam attended his first Bulldogs game at the DECC against St. Cloud State.

Sam plays hockey in Hermantown. He's a goalie, so naturally some of his favorite Bulldogs over the years have been goalies such as Isaac Reichmuth, Alex Stalock, Kenny Reiter, Alex Fons and Matt McNeely.

Other favorites include forwards Adam Krause, Joe Basaraba and Kyle Osterberg, and defenseman Wade Bergman and Chad Huttel.

Now Sam is a big fan of freshman goalie Hunter Miska, and how could a young goalie not be? Sam was there in Fargo a week ago watching Miska make unbelievable save after unbelievable save against Ohio State and Boston University to get the team to Chicago.

Sam said Miska's paddle save against the Buckeyes in overtime was his favorite of the weekend. What Sam didn't like was that both wins had to come in overtime.

From the perspective of a goalie, Sam said that's a lot of pressure with the season on the line.

"It's not cool to watch, we go into overtime and we have close games a lot," Sam said. "When we were listening to coach (Scott) Sandelin do the press conference after a game in the regional, he was talking about for some reason, don't know why, everyone on the team likes to be in those tight games."

Sam is 'Mom-strong'

The regional round is usually a "guys weekend" for Sam and his father, Chris. But this time, they decided Mom could come along. She proved to be the good-luck charm the Bulldogs needed to break their short-lived regional final curse.

Nicole, 49, has experienced a significant amount of luck since her 20s when she was diagnosed with cancer. A simple eye exam revealed she had been born with three different conditions — Gardner syndrome, neurofibromatosis and FAP — which were causing the cancer.

Sam could have inherited all three conditions, but he ended up with only FAP from his mother.

"As his mother, who has walked on this journey, this has been a very anxious year for me," said Nicole, who has had her colon and rectum removed. "It makes me nervous that we waited, but now I'm thankful that we did. If he would have missed the NCHC Frozen Faceoff or if he would have missed regionals, I felt like he would have felt punished for having what he had. I'm thankful to God that Chris was supportive of Sam and the doctors agreed we could wait."

The Andersons learned they were pregnant with Sam while Nicole was being treated for cancer in her uterus and cervix. It was a surprise because doctors told them Nicole would never be able to conceive.

And if by some miracle she did become pregnant, Nicole said she was told she'd miscarry.

Sam was born on a Thursday in October in the Twin Cities, right before the Bulldogs were scheduled to play Minnesota at Mariucci Arena. UMD swept that series, won five of six against the Gophers that year and advanced to the Frozen Four in Boston.

"I looked at the kid and I said, 'I lived through a 21-game losing streak against Minnesota, you might as well quit right now as a Bulldog fan because it's not going to get any better than this,' " Chris said.

Sam said his mother is an inspiration and role model. He's aware that he wasn't even supposed to be born and that if doctors had not caught his mother's conditions when they did, she may not be alive today.

"God has a lot in store for you," Sam said. "She wasn't supposed to live past 40. You never know what's going to happen. She could be gone tomorrow. I could be gone tomorrow. (Dad) could be gone tomorrow."

Despite everything he is facing, Sam keeps a positive attitude. He said he doesn't fear his upcoming surgery. He knows it's for the better, just like the occasional overtime playoff game for his Bulldogs.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317
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