Ask any hockey player who his secondary family is, and he will say the 20-plus members in his team’s locker room.
Ask any forward who his brothers are and he will say the two other players on his line.
In his senior year of high school, Ohio State freshman forward Freddy Gerard lost one of his brothers.
Growing up in Rocky River, Ohio, Gerard spent his youth hockey days developing in the Cleveland Barons AAA organization. For a majority of his time there, Gerard played on a line with Brunswick, Ohio, native Kevin Fox.
Fox, a senior at the time, was in a car with four other Brunswick High School students just past midnight on June 3, 2012, the same day of the school’s commencement.
The driver of the car, Jeffrey Chaya, 18, was speeding in neighboring suburb Columbia Township when his 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier crossed over a CSX railroad crossing.
The car flew, before landing hard and causing Chaya to lose control and veer into a ditch. The car struck a tree, overturned and landed on its roof on the road.
Chaya was killed along with Blake Bartchak, 17, and Fox’s girlfriend Lexi Poerner, 16. Fox, who was in the backseat with Poerner, was thrown out of the car and landed in a ditch.
Julia Romito, now a student at Kent State University, was the third backseat passenger and lone survivor of the accident. She recovered after being taken to a local hospital.
Fox — or “Foxy,” as he was commonly called by friends — was flown to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland and was treated until he passed away around 10 p.m the same day.
Upon seeing his friend in the intensive care unit in the afternoon hours before his death, Gerard was speechless.
“I started crying right away,” Gerard said somberly. “I had no idea what to expect. You never fully understand what that’s like. You see it sometimes in a movie but until it’s right there staring you in the face, your body just breaks down. It was one of the craziest, saddest moments that I’ve ever fully experienced.”
A community was devastated and a family was torn as Cleveland hockey lost one of its most beloved members.
“It could not be him,” Gerard said. “He’s Foxy. He was the happiest, crazy, funny kid. He had his own personality about him. Everybody knew who Kevin Fox was and what Kevin Fox was.”
The bond and family-like environment that growing up in hockey provides was shown at Fox’s funeral.
“It’s a family, you spend so much time together and here we are,” Fox’s mother Sherri said. “When Kevin passed, (his former teammates) showed up and continued to be a part of it.”
The Barons, now in the prestigious Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, used to compete in the Midwest Elite Hockey League.
It was in that realm that Kevin Fox and Gerard would compete against the best teams that the Detroit and Chicago regions had to offer weekend after weekend from September to March.
The duo faced numerous future NCAA Division I and NHL players over the years, all of whom molded them into extraordinary players and people.
Kevin Fox’s time with the Barons ended after his sophomore year of high school when he would become a star rugby player at Brunswick, while Gerard’s time with the program continued until graduation from St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio.
Whereas Gerard plays a quick, playmaking type of game with finesse, Kevin Fox complimented him with a grinder-like mentality, working in the corners and muscling it out with anyone, no matter how big or tall.
“He was willing to put himself out for his team,” Sherri Fox said. “He loved (his team). If it meant defending a teammate, he would do it.”
Gerard, still adjusting to the grueling schedule that college hockey presents on and off the ice, still carries his friend with him in the form of a tattoo on his left bicep.
The tattoo, which he had put on three days after Kevin Fox’s passing, features a fox with “Forever 28” inscribed below it, his number with the Barons.
“Having something on my body would always remind me of the type of person that he was and how great of a friend he was and how many more friends I want to hopefully have throughout my life like that,” Gerard said. “It’s a good memory to have, and every now and then I look down at it. I’m at the point where it puts a smile on my face that I was able to be his friend and have him be mine.”
Upon glancing at some of the images of Gerard and “Foxy” on the ice together and the tattoo which they had not seen, Kevin Fox’s parents were brought back to a time when it was simply fun to watch the young boys grow into outstanding men through the game of hockey.
“Kevin is with him all the time,” Kevin Fox’s father Jim said. “He is proud to be his friend.”
Gerard has played in six games this season, tallying one assist. One of the biggest aforementioned adjustments he has had to make to the college game after spending a few years in junior hockey is, ironically, playing more like Kevin Fox.
“I’ve kind of had to adapt to a grinder style and mix it up a little bit in the corners, play the body a little bit,” Gerard said. “If I could be like Kevin Fox a little bit, maybe that will help my game a little bit more.”
In March 2012, a few months before his death, Kevin Fox was given an assignment in his first period psychology class to come up with a list of 50 goals for his future.
No. 23 on the list said that he wanted to “continue to play hockey.”
Because of his teammate, friend and brother, Gerard, Kevin Fox continues to play hockey each and every day.