Young hockey star beats cancer, becomes coach

March 14, 2013 3:09:01 PM PDT
Eric 'Ebo' Eberling was the kind of hockey player who just personified this town.

"I was sort of that muck and grind kind of kid, battling the corners, always working hard," he said.

He was playing at an elite level for the Comcast Under-16 American team. Then, in November 2011, he was diagnosed with bone cancer.

"It's obviously the worst news you can hear in your life," said Gini Eberling, Ebo's mother. "You never would think that it's yourself or your child."

"To see your son fight for his life," said Ebo's father, Steve Eberling, "you wish you could do it. You wish it was you."

He would soon endure an eight-hour surgery to remove 2/3 of his femur and replace it with a metal rod and knee. That was followed by five months of grueling physical therapy and 22 hospital stays for chemotherapy.

"From then on out, you just sort of grow that determination and mindset that I did learn from hockey," said Ebo. "And you try and say, 'I'm going to battle through and I'm going to beat it.' And, you know, that's all you can do."

The hardest part: being told he'd never play hockey again.

"At first it was devastating," said Ebo. "But when you go through what I went through, you realize that there are definitely more important things in life."

And so he came up with a way to stay in the game. And now he's back on skates, coaching the Comcast 2000 Pee-Wee Major team.

"I used to play with him, and he used to be the hardest working kid I've ever seen play," said former teammate Richie Brusco. "For him to get back on the ice after all that happened, I mean, it's an inspiration to me."

"He's always positive," said Anthony Amato, one of the players Ebo coaches. "He never puts us down. He always motivates us to do the right thing."

"We never thought that he was going to walk," said Steve Eberling. "So to see him up on skates, it's just humbling to know what effort he put into it to get himself back up on the ice. It's just wonderful."

For Ebo, cancer-free since last fall, it's just icing on the cake.

"Just to be alive, you know, is great," he said.

Ebo will be honored Friday at the Flyers game. An honors student, he wants to become an orthodontist.