Former Frontenacs Ben Pearson Passes Away

The Kingston Frontenacs organization would like to extend their deepest condolences and sympathies to the family of former Frontenac Ben Pearson, who passed away suddenly at the age of 20, early Saturday Morning.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Pearson family.


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Ben Pearson was a muscular junior hockey player on a high-protein diet.

His liver, which lacked an enzyme to break down protein, couldn’t handle it.

Early Saturday morning, the 20-year-old Cambridge native died in hospital in London a week after the six-foot-two, 240-pound defenceman played his final game for the Norwich Merchants.

His father Steve says the extra protein intake, which included shakes and bars, was a significant factor in his son’s death.

“Because he was missing that enzyme, it was the perfect storm brewing,” said Steve Pearson, who hoped to hold his son’s funeral at Galt Arena on Thursday.

The lack of that enzyme “allows the buildup of ammonium in your liver. Instead of getting urinated out, it gets absorbed in the blood and attacks your brain.”

Ben’s lifelong liver condition was undiagnosed when the Conestoga College police foundations student started feeling ill a few weeks ago.

The former Cambridge Winter Hawks Jr. B player, who took his first baby steps with a hockey stick in his hands, went to the doctor. It was thought he might be suffering from a virus.

On Sept. 24, he played for Norwich but his dad could tell he wasn’t quite right.

“He was having trouble getting his stick on the puck,” Steve Pearson said. “What was happening is his brain was being attacked right then.”

Last Monday, Ben’s father took him to hospital in Cambridge. Doctors knew his brain was swelling and he was put into a coma. On Tuesday, Ben was taken to London by ambulance rather than helicopter since it was suspected the air pressure of a flight would have killed him.

Just after midnight on Friday, Ben died in hospital.

As many as 70 friends visited him last week, including Kitchener Rangers goaltender Brandon Maxwell. Maxwell, who grew up in Ayr and played minor hockey in Cambridge, was one of Ben’s best friends.

On Thursday, Maxwell went to London with flowers for Ben’s mom Robin and his own hockey jersey and a T-shirt for his ailing friend.

“He’s a really amazing kid,” Steve Pearson said of Maxwell, 19.

Maxwell initially didn’t want to play for the Rangers on Friday night at the Aud with his friend near death. Maxwell told Steve Pearson the Rangers would give him the night off to be with Ben. Steve told him that Ben would want him to play.

Maxwell played well for his friend and won 7-3.

On Saturday, Maxwell played well in a 4-0 loss in Owen Sound. Afterwards, Maxwell was noticeably shaken by something other than the defeat.

“He wanted to play that game for his friend,” Rangers goalie coach Piero Greco said. “I thought he played real well. He’s the one who gave us a chance to win.”

Ben Pearson was an inspiration to Maxwell during the Rangers’ 20-game playoff run last spring. When a groin injury had Maxwell considering pulling himself out of the lineup, Ben came to the rink and challenged Maxwell to suck it up.

Maxwell told Pearson’s father that he kept playing because, if he didn’t, Ben and fellow pal Kyle Clifford would have kicked the “living snot out of me.” Clifford, a 19-year-old from Ayr, is now with the Los Angeles Kings.

Maxwell and Clifford are close, having been minor hockey teammates in Cambridge. Pearson was a year older but earned their admiration with his rugged style on the ice.

“They looked up to Benny because he played the style they wanted to play,” Steve Pearson said.

In the summer, Pearson shot pucks at Maxwell for four or five hours to help him in his recovery from the groin injury. Ben also worked out with Clifford.

“My son was their rock,” Steve Pearson said. “Which makes me proud.”

Ben’s own Ontario Hockey League career was decimated after he took a brutal check into the boards from former Ranger Adam Zamec in Ottawa in September 2008.

His nose was broken. His visor sliced his face open. Pearson’s arm was broken above the wrist, which was dislocated in four places.

Pearson returned to hockey and played Jr. C in Norwich last season.

This Friday, Ben’s No. 7 will be raised to the rafters at the Norwich Community Centre in a pre-game ceremony with the Pearson family in attendance. Ben’s brother Eric is 22. His sister Amanda is 18. The Merchants encourage all his friends to attend.

“A lot of kids looked up to Ben,” Merchants coach Chad Paton said. “Not just in hockey, but life-wise.”

Pearson’s junior coach in Cambridge, Greg Bignell, recalled Ben as a tough kid and a team player.

“He was always there for his teammates,” Bignell said. “Real salt of the earth.”

Steve Pearson believes Galt Arena, where Ben played for the Winter Hawks, would be a fitting place to hold his son’s funeral if it can be arranged.

“The rink is where he’d be most comfortable,” he said.

“My son lived and died hockey.”


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