A Heart Like Mine


Spirit Defenseman Will Petschenig helps local children coping with loss after his father’s death in 2013


SAGINAW, MI A hockey player devotes endless hours to perfecting their individual skill and sport. The love of the game allows these players to endure long practices, lengthy bus rides, and tireless training sessions throughout a hockey season.


But for Saginaw Spirit defensemen Will Petschenig, it’s not just about perfecting what happens on the ice.


Hockey has played a large role throughout Petschenig’s entire life. As a three year old, Petschenig picked up a stick and laced up the hockey skates, falling head over heels for the sport and devoting 17 years of his life to the game. Growing up as a hockey player, Will looks back at going to Ontario Hockey League games, admiring the players in the league and aspiring to play at the junior level someday.


“I remember as a kid going to OHL games and I would look up to the players. They were my idols,” said the Manotick, Ontario native.


But in the fall of 2013, life off the ice for Petschenig took a drastic turn of events as his father unexpectedly passed away.  Though Will and his family learned to adjust to their lives without their father, Will continued to persevere in the rink and in the community.


The loss of a parent conceived an idea that resonated clearly with Petschenig’s passion for hockey and presented an opportunity to commemorate his father.


Petschenig has created a special project for children that have lost a parent. The 20-year-old defensemen extends a warm and welcome invitation to a family who has lost a parent each Saginaw Spirit home game, to enjoy a first class experience at the Dow Event Center. “Will’s Warrior” and their family are given free tickets to the game, as well as a meet and greet with Will, himself.


“We would like to thank Will Petschenig for his dedication to the Children’s Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.” said Camille Nitschky, Executive Director of Children’s Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.


“We provide peer support grief groups for kids and their families who are grieving a death.  His generosity and support in sponsoring our kids to attend a game and giving them the complete VIP treatment is really special. He is using his own experience to share and help younger people know they can get through this hard time and they are not alone. He is truly an inspirational role model for our kids and a mentor to anyone who has suffered the death of a parent.”


Petschenig, whose late father Dan played for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League from 1985-1987, changed his number to his father’s #65 when he was traded to the Spirit in June.


“I wanted to do something in honor of my dad. And making kids happy was the best way I could do that,” Petschenig said.


Petschenig not only hopes to create an amazing experience by inviting these children to Spirit games, but to continue in being a role model for these kids, the way other OHL players were for him when he was young.


“After they come to the games I will try and stay in contact with them. I will always be there for them if they need me,” said Petschenig. “Seeing the kids being so happy and smiling is what makes me happiest.”


Hockey has always been a home away from home for Petschenig. It has given him a sense of support and encouragement as he and his family mourned the loss of a parent, and as Will began to grow into his junior hockey career.


“The hockey community has been unbelievable to my family and me. My teammates have always supported me like brothers,” said Petschenig.


Petschenig’s heart and true passion for the game, both on and off the ice, has left an immeasurable impression on the Saginaw Spirit and the people within the Great Lakes Bay Region community. 

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