People with Down syndrome are a joy to be around due to their happy disposition. And when they form a bond with someone, that bond is unbreakable.
Twelve-year-old Emma Izzo first met Carolina Hurricanes forward, Jordan Martinook back in September 2019 when he skated over to say hello to her at the glass during warmups.
After Emma’s first interaction with Martinook, a bond instantly grew between them.
“After that first meeting, Emma thought of him as her buddy. We thought it would pass, but as we would watch the games, she kept talking about him,” Tina Izzo, Emma’s mother, said.
“The few games we went to in the fall of 2019, she would try to get to the glass during warmups because she wanted to see her buddy. The times he would see her, he would always give her a huge smile and high five,” she added.
As a Christmas gift in December 2019, Emma was given a Martinook Hurricanes jersey from her brother and sister and said it was “the best gift ever.”
In January 2020, at the Skate with the Canes event, Emma and Martinook’s bond grew larger.
As luck would have it, Emma and her family were part of the group on the ice when Martinook was also out there.
Emma was too uncertain to go over to Martinook at center ice, so Tina and her son skated over and asked him if he would skate over to the boards and say hi to Emma after he was done greeting the fans around him.
“Instead of waiting to the end, he asked the others in line to give him a few minutes and he skated over to Emma where he talked with her, signed her jersey and took a few pictures,” Tina explained.
“At that moment, when we saw the real joy Emma had when she met him, we knew her bond with him wasn’t going away and it made us so happy to see what it meant to her,” she added.
If you ask Emma her favourite part about her bond with Martinook, she’ll say “he’s my buddy and he loves me!”
A sweet answer from a girl who is feeling special to Martinook because of the interactions she has had with him.
Aside from Martinook, Emma also loves Hurricanes forward, Jordan Staal, Hurricanes in-game host, Abby Labar, Hurricanes LIVE analyst, Shane Willis, Hurricanes mascot, Stormy, and all the rest of her friends she has made at games.
“She enjoys watching the games but for her it’s more about the personal relationships and interactions she has with people associated with the organization,” Tina said.
When the arena opened back up to fans following COVID-19, there were a few games the Izzo’s went to where the Hurricanes won by more than three goals. Some fans noticed this and started dubbing Emma as a “good luck charm.”
“We knew that it was probably inevitable that a loss would occur with her there, but it was a fun statistic for a while,” Tina recalled.
Back during the last week of May, Hurricanes fan, Crystal Speeks-Strohecker was one of the fans who noticed Emma’s bond with Martinook.
Speeks-Strohecker took to social media and organized a donation site where other Hurricanes fans could donate money for Emma’s family to have season tickets for next season. The donations have surpassed the season ticket goal and there is now enough money to send other special needs kids to games.
“In a few words, unbelievable and deeply appreciative. We couldn’t believe that the Caniacs would give their own money to make sure she would be at the games. Accepting such a generous gift was not an easy thing for me as I really receive more joy in giving to others than receiving. However, understanding that this was something being done for Emma, we accepted it but still wanted to find a way to bless others with this gift,” Tina said.
“So, knowing it would be very difficult to make every game, we thought what about finding other special needs kids that would enjoy a night of Canes hockey that could use our tickets for those games,” she added.
Tina has loved seeing all the support from the Hurricanes community in response to Emma and Martinook’s bond.
“Just how wonderful it is that so many “see” her and the sincerity from Martinook and the real joy Emma receives from their friendship. The Canes organization being so accepting and supportive of Emma just shows why character matters,” Tina said.
“You know it is an important aspect of this organization and it starts at the top. When you meet general manager Don Waddell, know the type of player/coach Rod Brind’Amour was/is, see the type of players that are on the team, and the incredible fan base it demonstrates that having real character is not just saying the right words it’s shown through real action. It is an honor to be a part of such a great club,” she added.
In terms of next season, Emma is really looking forward to getting back to the glass at warmups and seeing her buddy Martinook.
“We are looking forward to seeing our team continue to excel and achieve even more than they did this past season. Also, to see all the friends we made this past season again and to meet new ones. There is nothing better than being at a Canes game and loving and supporting this team no matter what.”