A Plymouth hockey team is recovering after several players were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms Sunday during a state tournament at a Taylor ice rink.
According to parent Tyler Best of Plymouth Township, several Midget AAA 18U players fell ill Sunday before a game against the Little Caesar's AAA team in a Michigan Amateur Hockey Association tournament at Taylor Sportsplex.
Tyler Best said he took his 17-year-old son, Drew, home Sunday between games and when they returned to the rink at 5 p.m., several players had already started vomiting between 2-4 p.m.
"I didn't know how bad it was until game time," Tyler said.
Just 15 minutes prior to the 6:30 p.m. faceoff, Tyler said, two Victory Honda players were hospitalized and two additional players were unable to play. Tyler said Drew, who is among the team's leading scorers, felt "fine" and was willing to play, but Tony Calderone and Trevor Cope, the team's other top scorers, were out.
The game had high stakes for both teams; the winner would earn a spot in the national championships in Buffalo, NY.
Drew, a junior, quickly started to feel ill after taking the ice.
"By the end of the warmup skate, he had his head hung over the bench and didn't look right," Tyler said. "Within another 10 minutes he was throwing up on the bench and progressively got worse."
Coach Brian Burke said he didn't realize until after the game how widespread the illness had become.
"Prior to the game, I thought it was isolated to just our guys," Burke said. "There really wasn't any thought given to anything happening at a larger scale."
Tyler said there once the game began, there was "one kid after another" leaving the bench, leaving the team with just 8 of its 18 skaters by the end of the game.
"They were all physically drained," Burke said. "Even the remaining guys, three or four of them were puking on the bench."
Despite being shorthanded, Victory Honda kept the game close. Drew's game-tying goal sent the teams into overtime.
"When he scored, he just layed on the ice," Tyler said. "Drew just took a knee at center ice and couldn't move."
Little Caesar's ended the game in overtime, however, securing a 5-4 win and a shot at the national championship.
"It was an absolutely tremendous effort by those guys," Burke said of his team. "The kids did everything they could, they just physically didn't have anything left."
The Bests returned home after the game and Drew collapsed in the kitchen, Tyler said. He was taken by ambulance to Mott Children's Hospital.
Norovirus outbreak blamed for illnesses
On the way to the hospital, Tyler said he received text messages that the arena had closed, but nobody had any idea what caused the sudden illness, which he said primarily affected players.
Burke said a Honeybaked midget minor team had several players fall ill later in the evening and had one leave the arena on a stretcher.
Eighteen of the team's 20 players were ultimately affected, Burke said, including 13 who were hospitalized.
Tyler said county health officials soon ruled the players fell ill from a norovirus at the arena.
The source of the nanovirus hasn't been determined, Tyler said. He said Drew brings his own Propel-brand flavored water to games and the players all ate lunch separately, so drinking water or contaminated food likely wouldn't be the culprits.
Burke said members of his family had started feeling effects from the illness after the game, too.
On Monday, Taylor Sportsplex and JRV Consulting issued a statement on Facebook about Sunday's apparent outbreak:
"JRV Consulting is committed to operating recreational facilities like the Taylor Sportsplex at the highest level of safety for the community and all participants. With a full emergency policy and procedures program in place, staff is working effectively to address this issue. JRV Consulting is cooperating with the City of Taylor and the Wayne County Health Department to investigate and ensure that the Taylor Sportsplex facility is safe when it reopens."
Players continue to recover
Two days after collapsing at home, Tyler said Drew continues to recover. While he has regained some of his strength and has started eating again, he remains "very weak."
Tyler said Drew required three IV bags of saline to rehydrate after the game.
Burke said two of his players remain hospitalized, but were expected to be released Tuesday.
"They're getting better, but no one is 100 percent yet," Burke said.
Tyler said he couldn't keep his son off the ice during the game.
"You can't take the competitor out of the kid," he said. "He wanted to play and as a dad, I was willing to support him. When he collapsed, the first thing we did was call the hospital."
Should team get another shot at nationals?
After Sunday's incident, debate has emerged over whether Victory Honda, which plays out of Plymouth's , deserves a rematch with Little Caesar's.
Tyler said he doesn't want to take away from the Little Caesar's team's victory, but that a compromise should be reached that would allow both teams to advance.
"They did win, so they do deserve that victory," he said.
Tyler said USA Hockey, which governs the national tournament should instead award Victory Honda an at-large bid to the national championships, which would allow both teams to compete in Buffalo.
Burke said the team's director is speaking with representatives from the national tournament to see what options, if any, are available and talks were expected to resume Tuesday.
"First, you have to give credit to Little Caesar's," Burke said. "I'm not sure what can be done, but if there's an opportunity to give it another go, we'd certainly be up for that."
Regardless of whether the team earns another shot to compete on the national stage, Burke said he is proud of his players' effort.
"At the end of the day, this is the greatest group of guys ever," he said. "They did everything they could. That's all there is."
This story was updated from its original version at 3:44 p.m. to include new comments from coach Brian Burke and to correct the spelling of "norovirus."