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By Steve Dry, 12/30/17, 7:30AM CST


Shutouts for Seizures

Girls Ice Hockey: Falcons youth goalie commits to helping epilepsy non-profit

A shutout is defined as a game in which the losing side fails to score. 

In hockey, it’s a rare accomplishment that is a product of teamwork.

Sarah Matthews, a Highland Park native, found a way to make shutouts even more impressive last season. She presented an idea to her Falcons U14 team, whose practice home is at Hot Shot Ice Arena in Lake Bluff, to help raise money for those who suffer from epilepsy.

“I was at a goalie camp over the summer [of 2016] for a week and [Amelia Murray] was one of the instructors there,” Matthews said. “One of the things we did after lunch, we would talk about different things hockey related. (Murray) talked about what her [non-profit organization] was and how she just started it because (a family member) was diagnosed with a seizure disorder.”

While at a Goalie Development Institute camp, Matthews listened to Murray’s presentation about her non-profit organization, Shutouts for Seizures. Murray, a former Chicago Young Americans goalie and current Union College goalie, explained that Shutouts for Seizures was a way to raise money for epilepsy research. On every team Murray has played for, she asked both players and parents to donate a monetary value per shutout earned during the season, with all funds going to epilepsy research. 

Murray’s message hit home with Matthews.

With families that hail from Highland Park, Lake Forest and Deerfield, Matthews initially presented the idea of donating to Shutouts for Seizures in 2016. 

“We had her present it to the team last year, and this year, and people were very enthusiastic and excited about it,” Sarah’s mother, Kim Matthews, said. “A lot of parents commented that they loved that there was an opportunity for their kids to realize that something they’re doing was helping other people.”

Now, each family has $5 on hand in the hopes that at the end of the game they will be able to donate the money to Shutouts for Seizures. 

“She always takes it upon herself to find things that she can do to reward good play,” Falcons’ U14 coach Bill Polovin said. “I think she found it.”

By the end of last season the team totaled nine shutouts and had raised $500 for Shutouts for Seizures, which donated the funds to Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy.

“I thought it was be nice to help this organization out because it was just starting,” Sarah Matthews said. 

The Falcons U14 team agreed to continue donating to Shutouts for Seizures for every shutout this season as well. Currently, the team has seven shutouts, combined between Sarah Matthews and her goalie partner, for the season.

“The team kind of got behind her, especially coming down to the end (of a game) they’re really pushing harder to make sure it happens,” Polovin said. “They think it’s funny when they go in the lobby and all the parents get their $5 bills out and hand them to Sarah Matthews. The kids get a big kick out of that.”

Shutouts are often rare in hockey, especially in really competitive leagues. Polovin thinks that Shutouts for Seizures has helped give the girls that little extra push to give each game their all.

“[A shutout] is really dependent on a team effort as opposed to an individual effort,” Polovin said. “In a shutout while the goalie is primarily responsible for not letting goals in the net, she has five players in front of her that kind of help.”

While Polovin doesn’t have statistics to back up his theory, he thinks that Shutouts for Seizures does help motivate the girls to play to the best of their ability.

“I think that they do know in the back of their head that it’s there,” he said. “I think as the game goes on, and the goalies are closer to getting a shutout, that little extra effort does show up.”  

This season, the U14 team has amassed seven shutouts and they’re only halfway through the season. 

A familial foundation

“I had a close family member who was diagnosed with epilepsy almost 11 years ago now,” Murray said. “At the time I had no idea what epilepsy was or what seizures were.”

The lack of information struck a chord in Murray, who then started Shutouts for Seizures. The name is a double-edged sword, and is not only significant to the hockey community but is also a way to ask for help. 

“(The name) also created the acronym SoS,” Murray said. “Which is partly what we really wanted and at the same time being a goalie was a big part of it. 

“I have taken it to another level, a shutout is so much more than what your goalie can do. You can’t get a shutout if your defenseman isn’t blocking shots for you, your forwards need to be getting out to the point and chipping the puck out. It’s really a collective team effort and I think that needs to be more known in the hockey community.” 

Murray has high hopes that little-by-little, and with help from young hockey players like Sarah Matthews, that her message will spread.

“On the youth end, I think it’s important to just spread the message to as many teams as possible,” she said. “It’s not limiting in the fact that any team can do it. A house team, a travel team, girls or boys team, it really doesn’t matter. Whoever would like to get involved can. It doesn’t really take much more than going out there, playing hockey and spreading the word.”

Epilepsy is a bigger concern than one might think, and Murray didn’t know just how big until it hit home. 

“The epilepsy community is so small with who knows about it, and the knowledge we have, it’s really something that needs to grow because one in 26 Americans has a seizure disorder,” she said. “It’s actually a lot more common than people think.”

Murray started the non-profit six years ago, and to date, Shutouts for Seizures has raised right around $30,000. Murray isn’t stopping there in her efforts either.

Union College, where Murray plays Division 1 hockey, has a combination of both players and parents who donate a monetary value for each shutout earned. Currently the team has one shutout for the season, which occurred Nov. 4 in a game against Merrimack College.

“Our plan right now is to get the entire league, which is 12 teams, involved,” she said. “Right now my team is involved and I will be speaking at a press conference for the league soon.

“From there I would love for it to spread to all of collegiate hockey, that is the hope and maybe catch the attention of some NHL teams.”

Extending the Shutouts for Seizures family

Sarah Matthews, who also plays on the Falcons Bantam NIHL 1 travel team, has inspired yet another team in her efforts to help Murray. 

“We didn’t plan on doing it with [the Bantam team] but some of them heard about it and they wanted to join us, too,” Sarah Matthews said. 

Currently the Bantam team has five shutouts for the season. In total, between both teams, Sarah Matthews has collected $1,000 for Shutouts for Seizures. That doesn’t include the people that have committed to donating, but want to donate in a lump sum at the end of the season.

“She didn’t really feel comfortable presenting this to the team,” Kim Matthews said. “It just turned out that there is a girl on her U14 team who has a brother on 
Sarah Matthews’ Bantam team. 

“It was that parent, when they were away at their first tournament and the team had two shutouts, who asked, ‘Why aren’t we doing the Shutouts for Seizures here?’ 
Then told some other parents about it and they actually said to Sarah that they really wanted to do it on this team. It’s been a great response from the families.”

That type of enthusiasm is why Murray is thankful she has individuals like Sarah Matthews who believe in her cause. 

“It really is people like Sarah and little goalies that I’m meeting at camps here and there that are going to take this thing places,” Murray said. “Really, the denomination amount is so small. It can be $1 it can be $10, it doesn’t really matter. Every little bit goes towards fighting epilepsy awareness.”

Sarah Matthews has quickly become one of Murray’s biggest advocates and friend. Recently, while home for the holiday break, Murray went to Sarah Matthews’ Bantam game Dec. 17 at Lake Forest Academy to support her and the team.

“I think it’s incredibly amazing and honestly inspiring,” Murray said. “I hope that other people hear about her crazy dreams to help me with this. She is one of the pioneers of this with me.”

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