Sophomore forward Greg Malinowski is more than your average college hockey player just in it for the love of the sport.
The Owls’ captain is playing for the memories of his nephew Colden Malinowski and best friend Alex Sellen, who passed away three months and four days apart from each other.
Colden died at the end of April of bacterial meningitis. He was just 10 years old.
“It was during finals week of last semester,” Malinowski said. “I was in the TECH Center at 2 a.m. and my mom called me and the first thing that came to my mind was that she was going to be like, ‘What are you doing up so late pulling an all-nighter?’ But she said ‘You need to come home right now, Colden is in the hospital.’”
Malinowski drove home in so much haste that the Southampton, Pa., native said he made the 17-mile trip in 15 minutes. Upon getting home, Malinowski’s mother informed him Colden had bacterial meningitis and was just airlifted to Lehigh Valley hospital.
“Right when she said bacterial meningitis, I knew that he wasn’t going to last much longer,” Malinowski said, teary-eyed, looking away to avoid showing his emotion. “He was gone before I even got there, so I just said my goodbyes and was there holding his hand the whole time.”
Just more than three months later, Sellen, Malinowski’s best friend since first grade, passed away unexpectedly at 21 years old. At the time, Malinowski was at the beach with his friend Ed Dewald when he got another tragic call.
“I got woken up by my one friend calling me,” Malinowski said. “He kept calling me and calling me, he called me three times in a row and I just kept ignoring it, but he kept calling, so I finally answered. He said, ‘Oh, um… [Sellen] died.’ And that’s what he kept saying on the phone, ‘[Sellen] died.’ He kept saying it.”
“And I threw the phone,” Malinowski added. “And I ran to the bathroom and I started throwing up and I couldn’t say anything. I was just in tears and screaming.”
Malinowski and Dewald immediately drove to Sellen’s house, but an ambulance had already taken his body. The following day, Malinowski and Dewald were able to see Sellen’s body and pay their last respects.
After suffering such dramatic losses in a short span of time, Malinowski was considering not returning to Temple.
“He was very quiet,” Marilyn Malinowski, his mother, said. “He really didn’t say a whole lot or speak a lot to me, but it was very obvious that it affected him very deeply. It was just a sad time all around for all of us.”
But it was the memories of the departed that kept him motivated to return to Temple and continue to play college hockey for the Owls.
“Essentially what he said was, ‘I know this is what Colden and [Sellen] would’ve wanted me to do,’” Marilyn Malinowski said. “So I think he kind of rededicated himself to going back to school and doing well, and just to do well by Colden and [Sellen].”
Once Malinowski got back on the ice, he was convinced he made the right decision and that he needed to give everything he had on the ice for the memories of Colden and Sellen.
“Once I stepped onto the ice, I was like, ‘I need to do this to the best of my ability,’” Malinowski said. “I can’t just do this half-assed, it has to be done with heart and that’s what my nephew and best friend would’ve wanted me to do, and to do it as hard as I can.”
To bring them with him every time Malinowski steps onto the ice for the Owls, on the back of his helmet are the initials of Colden and Sellen. The helmet reads “CM .. Play For Them .. AS.” Malinowski also has their initials on the top of his hockey sticks.
The memories of Colden and Sellen and the drive to play for them have Malinowski playing very well in the early parts of the season. At the time of press, Malinowski scored three goals in the first four games this year.
“It’s inspirational for the whole team to watch how he plays,” senior goaltender Chris Mullen said. “It’s a devastating event and it’s a shame it happened, let alone happened to such a great kid. [He’s] the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone even if he just met you. Truly a great person. Can’t say enough good things about him. He’s my captain, my roommate and one of my best friends. He plays for everyone before himself and that’s the kind of leader a team needs.”
“I said to him, ‘I’m here if you need me,’” coach Ryan Frain said. “‘Don’t think you’re in this alone. Not only do you have your friends and family, but you have your second family which is us, the hockey team.’”
“Unfortunately, a lot of people can relate to this story, and that’s the world we live in,” Malinowski said. “I hope that other people can read this and relate to it. Because it’s a crazy world we live in.”
Malinowski’s mother also said her son refers to Colden and Sellen as his “guardian angels in heaven.”
“I feel like they’re everywhere,” Malinowski said. “It’s wild.”
Samuel Matthews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SJMatthews13.