Hockey players, like it or not, are role models, and they have the power to inspire anytime they’re public. From tossing a puck into the stands to a highlight-reel goal, those tiny moments can make a big impact on someone’s life, especially kids and young adults in their formative years.
Which brings me to this story. Alex Ovechkin doesn’t know it, but he helped 17-year-old Nikki Goldstone get through the most difficult time in her life.
And it’s because of the confidence he has with a missing tooth.
In March 2017, Nikki, a then junior at Roland Park Country School, was hanging out and chatting with friends down the street from her house in Baltimore. The friends were carpooling and about to go out.
“I stood on the bumper of my friend’s car like Jack Dawson, who stood on the bow of the Titanic, feeling like the king of the world,” Nikki said in an interview. “For a brief moment, I actually felt euphoria, until, without realizing that I was perched there, my friend began to drive away.”
As the car accelerated, Nikki began to fall and she tried to desperately grab onto the roof rack. Her grip was too weak and she slammed chin-first against the asphalt. As she laid flat on the ground, Nikki was unable to tell precisely where pangs of intense pain were coming from. Then she looked down and saw a piece of her exposed hipbone and a pool of her own blood. Nikki’s jaw was fractured in four places and four of her teeth were pushed up into her gums and in her lips.
Convinced that she was going to die, Nikki recalled telling her friends to tell her family she loved them.
“Hours later, I awoke from emergency surgery to find my jaw wired shut,” Nikki said. “The doctors said I was fortunate that it was my mandible, rather than my skull or neck, which took the brunt of the impact. Of course, I was lucky to be alive, but for the foreseeable future, my ability to communicate verbally would be limited.”
Nikki’s jaw remained wired for six weeks. She survived on a soft food diet for months.
“I tried to blend up Qdoba and Ramen. Never blend Qdoba or Ramen,” Nikki instructed me.
Seeing hockey players, especially Alex Ovechkin, rock a missing-tooth look has helped Nikki maintain her confidence throughout her recovery. Even reading stories about Jimmy Vesey losing teeth in his lips were comforting because it helped remind her that she was not the only one going through this.
Nikki has been a Capitals fan for a long time, and started because of her friend Abigail Hibbs.
“[Abigail] and I have been fans together since the beginning and she really got me into hockey,” Nikki said. “I am so very thankful. You don’t understand.”
Nikki had to attend her junior prom, which she always imagined she’d look like a princess at, toothless.
“I had a rough time at prom, but I called Abigail who reminded me that it was not about looks, but who you are as a person,” Nikki said. “She told me to think of Ovi.”
Whenever those insecure moments popped up, Nikki thought of that gap-toothed smile and her negativity began to melt way. Even though she didn’t look like a typical Disney princess, she looked “like one of the coolest people out there: a hockey player.”
On Saturday, Nikki and Abigail are going to the Stadium Series game to celebrate their friendship, their love of hockey, and Nikki’s recovery.
“I want the Capitals to know that they got me through one of the hardest times of my life, and taught me to accept and love myself,” Nikki said. “They made me feel not alone, at a time when I felt scared to look in the mirror.”
For now, Nikki has a set of flippers (a type of dentures), but has to wait until she is 22 to get implants. She has her third surgery scheduled and will use Invisalign afterwards to her bone/graft stay stable.
At that point, her once perfect smile may return, but, if you ask us, her grin may never be more beautiful than it is right now.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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