In 1998, the Winter Olympic Games helped create a generation of dreamers in the Czech Republic as young children watched their hockey heroes win a Gold Medal in men’s Hockey. While the games might have been far off in Nagano, at home in the Czech Republic, families sat in front of their televisions to cheer on Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, Roman Hamrlik and others, as they led their nations hockey team to a 1-0 Gold Medal win over Russia.
For an eight-year-old Milan Doczy, he never once thought it would be the start of what many call, “an incredible story”.
Doczy, now 26-years old, has truly come full circle. While many know of his story, specifically through the #doitfordoczy campaign, he’s not the type of person to tell it. The story started with the game of hockey, but as Doczy got older, it became a game of life.
Milan Doczy left his family at the age of 15, left his home country at the age of 17, all for his love of hockey.
“Everyone would be in front of a television watching hockey and everyone was inspired to become one of those guys on television,” Doczy recalled about the 1998 Gold Medal Czech Republic Men’s Hockey team. “Everyone started going to the hockey rink and trying to become this big superstar.”
At this moment in life, Doczy was like everyone else. He dreamt the dream of playing in the NHL. However, unlike others, Doczy made this dream come as close to reality as he possibly could through dedication and hard work.
“I was always working towards that goal of becoming an NHL hockey player,” said Doczy. “I don’t know if I fully realized if one day it could become a reality, [but] I certainly made sure I did everything in my power to accomplish that goal.”
At age 15, playing for a club team in Czech Republic, Doczy was traded to a team that forced him to move away from his family. Then at the age of 17, Doczy took a huge step forward, as he was drafted by the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League, in Canada.
“[I knew] coming to Canada would provide me with a better opportunity to be seen by NHL scouts and would increase my chances of getting into the NHL,” said Doczy.
While the transition from Europe to North America was not as difficult as he assumed, except for the fact that Doczy didn’t know any English. He would however, rely on the one thing he did know, and that was hockey.
The transition wasn’t immediate, as Doczy, at times, did have moments where he questioned what he was doing. Having no family and friends in Canada at the time, he would just have to step back and realize why he was truly doing what he was doing. He slowly developed his English and began building relationships that he still holds close to this day.
One of the first relationships Doczy built took time to really develop. He was at a hockey rink when he was picked up by a family he didn’t know, but would eventually become part of their lives and household.
Tracy and Sean Walker are a couple who decided they would be the home for Doczy. They were first-time billets and Doczy was the first hockey player of their family.
“We didn’t know each other and I didn’t speak any English,” recalled Doczy. “They picked me up from the hockey rink, brought me into their home and gave me everything I needed. I developed a great relationship with them and we are still in touch almost every other day.”
When Doczy looks back, he understands how lucky he was to end up with a family like the Walker’s. Had Doczy ended up with another family, he believes they would have done what they can, but the Walker’s went above and beyond. He still remembers always having a meal on the table when coming home.
“They don’t get paid for it. They do it because they’re good people,” said Doczy.
The 23rd overall pick in the 2007 CHL Import Draft spent three seasons with the Owen Sound Attack. His most impressive season came in 2009-10 when he scored four goals and had 23 assists. For his career in the OHL, Doczy had eight goals and 58 assists.
Even in his final year with the Attack, Doczy believed he could be playing professionally even if it meant going back to Europe. Essentially, going back to the Czech Republic is what Doczy did, as he decided to play one year there. Unfortunately, Doczy’s time in the Czech Republic didn’t last long as he hoped, as his family and the Walker family thought that it would be best for him to return to Canada and begin focusing on his education.
This was the moment Doczy’s life took a bit of a turn. He remembers signing his OHL contract, knowing no English: his family was in a different country, and even his agent at the time was in Los Angeles.
All Doczy could recall was a contract in front of him with pen-in-hand, and he was asked to sign. It was a contract that would pay him $65 a week, and increase to $150 in his final year.
At this time, however, the OHL supplied no funding for European players to attend school. The league did have a scholarship program that helped Canadian born player’s pay for post-secondary following their OHL careers. That same scholarship didn’t exist for players like Doczy: not until Doczy fought and fought.
“I was just trying to do what I could to get my education to start my life from scratch,” said Doczy, who at this time began to move away from his dream of professional hockey. “I made numerous phone calls to the general manager of the OHL and he would always be like, ‘yeah we will help you out’, but then I would never hear back.”
Doczy wasn’t looking for a handout from the league, he just thought that spending three years with one team away from his family would at least lead to some help. The league did eventually change the policy for the scholarship, but it was done quietly.
“I wouldn’t describe it as blindsiding, but it was disappointing,” said Doczy. “Day-in and day-out you put in a hundred per cent and you hope that you just get a shot. I didn’t expect anything in return, don’t get me wrong, but you just see those other players and they are moving on with their lives by attending university.”
Doczy’s hockey career didn’t stop there however, as it followed him with his education. Doczy received a phone call from Brock Men’s Hockey head coach Murray Nystrom in 2012 about the chances of him attending the home of the Badgers.
“I remember the first day when [Murray] got in touch with me,” said Doczy. “He said, ‘let’s go for coffee and go over what needs to be done to get you started’.”
Doczy’s university hockey career would take off from here, as he became the newest member of the Brock Badgers. Doczy played two seasons with the with the St. Catharines university, playing in a total of 50 games.
“[Without] Murray Nystrom, I don’t know where I would be right now,” said Doczy. “Murray changed my life in a positive way. I didn’t have that proper educational background, but he took a chance on me.”
Brock decided as a school they would help out and waive the tuition fee that international students would be forced to normally pay. Doczy was given a $4,000 scholarship, but would have to maintain a 70 average.
More good news came after a story published by The Toronto Star about Doczy led to the OHL finally helping out financially.
Going back to Doczy’s relationship with Nystrom, Doczy remembers one line that the coach said from their first meeting, that he will never forget: ‘when you are going to attend Brock, these four years are going to be the best four years of your life’.
Doczy believes these have been the best years of his life, but it did get harder following his second year at Brock. Doczy found an unfamiliar mole on the outside of his right foot, which turned out to be melanoma.
“Being so young, I didn’t expect to be diagnosed with cancer,” said Doczy. “I would hear the word cancer, but I would never think about it twice before being diagnosed. You know it’s out there and it happens to people, but you don’t expect it to happen to you when you’re so young.”
Doczy felt stuck, as if he was in survival mode. But like many times before, no one let Doczy stand alone.
The Brock community began a ‘Do It for Doczy’ fundraiser. It all started with Brock professor Geoff Hoover of the Goodman School of Business. Hoover, who had taught Doczy at Brock, began a trust fund and a website to help raise money in support of Doczy. With the help of his teammates, Brock students and the community (and even the Owen Sound Attack) a lot of money was raised, quickly.
“He has always been there when I needed support,” said Doczy, regarding Hoover. “It didn’t matter what I was going through, he was always on top of it.”
Doczy’s treatment would cost close to $9,100 for the first month, according to an article posted in The National Post. For the next 11 months it would be $42,000.
Times were hard for Doczy through his cancer treatment. First, his family was still in Czech Republic. Secondly, he remembers the side effects of the medicine – headaches, back pains and kidney issues.
“It would just pile up and the energy level wasn’t there,” said Doczy. “When I would go up the stairs I would be out of breath and that would never happen to me before.”
“I wish they could be here with me,” Doczy said of his family. “They will never understand the treatments I went through and every day I was in the hospital, they will never. That’s probably the sad part.”
Today, over two years after being diagnosed with cancer, Doczy is cancer free. He has gone through all his treatments and according to his doctors, his year-long treatment is over.
“Officially they say cancer free, but I don’t believe that,” said Doczy, whose outlook on life has completely changed. “The medicine can only do so much.”
“I [want to] thank everyone for the support. Having me in their prayers and thoughts, that’s something I really appreciate. You see the world is somewhat crooked with some of the negative things going on, and then something like this happens and you see a community come together.”
It was not the last of Doczy seeing the community come as one for him. A week ago, Hoover, Brock Men’s Hockey and many other friends, surprised the cancer survivor with a private event to celebrate his overcomings.
“[Hoover] did a good job hiding the event from me as I had no idea,” said Doczy. “I showed up and saw two of my friends from classes. I thought it was strange seeing people here, but it can happen. But then I see the entire hockey team and that’s when I thought: ‘something is not right here’.”
The last ten years have been a near storybook ending for Doczy, who is now engaged to his girlfriend Justine Otten, after proposing to her a couple weeks ago.
“Life can be great and the next minute life can fall apart,” said Doczy. “You can plan for the future and think everything will be great, but things will change. In between getting from point A to Z, you’re going to have some obstacles to overcome.”
In 1998, Doczy watched the Czech Republic Olympic Hockey team do the unthinkable – winning Gold.
Now, we have all watched Doczy do the unthinkable. With his home left behind, Doczy has chased his dream, overcome many challenges and beat the game of life. Doczy in his own way has become a hero and role model. He wanted to become an NHL hockey player, but instead Doczy is now an inspiration.
“You’re here today,” said Doczy. “What happens in the future can go both ways, but all you can do is stay in the moment and enjoy what you have.”
Doczy is slowly finishing his degree at Brock as he patiently takes three courses per semester. He plans to graduate with a Financial Economics degree in April of 2017, as Doczy and his future wife, Justine, move forward together.