Rick Fasching promised his son that he wouldn’t cry. At least not until he was boarding the plane back home to Minnesota.
But the thought of not seeing his eldest child every day, not having those regular family outings at the ice arena, his younger children not having their big brother around, was enough to send the tears streaming down Rick’s face before he even got out the door of the house his oldest son would now call home.
It wasn’t a final goodbye, but it sure felt like it. Rick and his wife Shannon were leaving their oldest son in someone else’s care and returning to a life that wouldn’t be the same as the one they’d been living for the last 16 years.
Hudson Fasching, Rick and Shannon’s eldest child, was embarking on a two-year stint with the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., after starring for Apple Valley (Minn.) High School’s varsity boys’ hockey and soccer teams.
Hudson was the first of Rick and Shannon’s three children to leave home. He will also be the only one.
Hudson’s younger brother Cooper, 14, and sister Mallory, 13, each suffer from a mitochondrial disorder that leaves them unable to walk or speak, requiring around-the-clock care.
Shannon handles the majority of care-giving, with help from Rick and visiting nurses, but Hudson always took an active role in helping out with his younger siblings as well.
“[Hudson] could do near anything a nurse c
ould do with Cooper and Mallory,” Rick says. “He knew how to feed, how to give them medicine. The nice part was, and remember he’s a teenager, not once in the 15 years did he ever complain. Not a once. To me, as a parent, those are the things that make it special.”
Knowing that he had a lot of responsibility within his family, Hudson’s decision to stay in Burnsville and continue playing high school hockey or leave home for the unfamiliar surroundings of Ann Arbor was far from an easy one.
“My parents just kept telling me that ‘you’ve got to do what’s best for you, you can’t think about anybody else,’ ” Hudson recalls.
And as hard as it was for them, Rick and Shannon knew what was best for their son.
“We felt [going to the NTDP] was definitely the right move, but we didn’t want him to know we thought it was the right move because we wanted him to get there on his own,” Rick says.
Fully aware of what he was leaving behind, the then 15-year-old eventually came to the same decision.
“I’ve done a lot of things – not necessarily sacrifices – to stay with my family,” Hudson says. “It’s hard to detach everything, but I [had] to try to think about what is best for me.
“I wasn’t thinking I had a set date to make my decision, I just kind of figured it out. I stopped saying ‘if I go to Michigan’ and started saying ‘when I go to Michigan.’ I kind of subconsciously made the decision to come here.”
On the way to one of the family’s many visits to the doctor, Hudson informed his mother of his final decision.
“He just kind of looked at me and he said ‘I think I’m going to go, I want to go,’” Shannon recalls.
“We were all pretty comfortable by that point how his life was going to be and how our life was going to be. We played it out a lot. We weren’t surprised.”
Still, that didn’t make things any easier.
“We’re a tight unit,” Hudson says of his family. “Leaving kind of broke that unit down a bit. The family part of [the decision] was really hard for me.”
Without their oldest at home, the Faschings admit that their lives have certainly changed. Shannon says it’s been a bit lonely without the only child she’d have to cook meals for and cart around to various extracurricular activities.
“[Hudson] was the center of our social life. We followed him from one sport to the next, and that was kind of our group of friends. It’s a huge change in lifestyle for us,” says Shannon.
“With the other two not being able to walk and talk and play sports, not that Cooper and Mallory aren’t the center of our world, because they are and they take a lot of time and effort, but they need a different kind of attention.”
It’s been a huge change for Hudson as well, who admits to dealing with a case of homesickness early in his stay in Ann Arbor.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” he says. “You have to work really hard every day to get better and everybody’s here to make you better, so you have to challenge yourself. It was a bit of an adjustment for me.”
Hudson will never forget what he left behind or why it was necessary to make the move.
“I left home to come out here, so I better be working as hard as I can every day to get better,” he says. “My brother and sister can’t have any of these opportunities, so I’ve got to kind of do everything for all of us. I want to make them proud while I’m out here.”
According to his coach, Hudson is making the most of his time in Ann Arbor.
“He’s very committed to his game and improvement,” says Don Granato, head coach of the U.S. National Under-17 Team. “He came in here very accomplished in his own age group, very successful, yet he’s very intent on adding more to his game. He’s smart, he cares and he’s willing to work. He’s a talented kid.”
There’s good reason for Hudson to put in the extra work.
“Making it to the NHL is everybody’s big goal, but I don’t want to just make it to the NHL. I want to succeed in the NHL,” Hudson admits. “I want to say I played at least more than a couple of seasons.”
The hulking 6-foot-2 forward should have a good chance at making his dream come true. He’s been a standout on the U.S. National Under-17 Team, which plays a schedule predominantly against older, stronger United States Hockey League competition and international opponents.
At the 2012 World Under-17 Challenge, the marquee event for the U.S. National Under-17 Team, Fasching averaged a point-per-game with four goals and two assists, helping Team USA to a second-place finish.
The whole Fasching family was on hand to see Hudson dazzle at the Challenge. Rick and Shannon packed up their van, and thanks to some creative rigging by Shannon, the Fasching clan was able to make the 12-hour trek from their home in Burnsville, Minn., to Windsor, Ont., for the eight-day tournament.
“That’s the first time we’ve taken a road trip in years,” Rick says, noting that it was much easier to transport Cooper and Mallory when they were younger and smaller.
“This was the first time, maybe the only time, but we did all the work. Still, it was so fantastic.”
It was particularly fun for Cooper, who loves being at his older brother’s hockey games.
Despite not being able to walk or talk and with cortical blindness leaving both he and Mallory barely able to see, it’s the sounds of the game that seem to excite Cooper.
“I always try to get him there during warm-ups because he loves hearing the puck bang against the glass,” Shannon says. “It scares the heck out of me and I hate it, but just hearing the puck bang against the boards and the glass, he thinks it’s the greatest thing in the whole world.”
“When the crowd cheers, he smiles,” Rick continues. “He doesn’t know what it’s for necessarily, but it was a great experience.”
Though Hudson has only been able to get home twice since moving out to Ann Arbor, Rick says it’s hard to tell if Cooper and Mallory miss him.
“It would be hard to gauge because you don’t get a lot of visual reads from them,” Rick explains. “They love it when he comes home, though.
“Their brain doesn’t process what they see, so the hearing part is the most important for them. They know Hudson’s voice, so they both will get very happy if they get to hear their brother and know he’s there.”
When Hudson’s two-year tenure at the NTDP is done, his brother and sister will likely get to see him a lot more again. In December, Hudson made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Minnesota, a mere 18 miles from the Faschings’ house.
Hudson can’t help but smile when he thinks about playing in front of a hometown crowd that will include his biggest fans: his family. Although still a couple of years away, those thoughts help to keep him focused on the tasks at hand and pushing to improve. They also tell him that the gut-wrenching decision he made as a teenager will pay off in the long run.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he says, “that I made the right decision coming here.”
Chris Peters is a freelance writer from North Liberty, Iowa, and former media relations coordinator with the National Team Development Program.