PITTSBURGH — The moment he heard his name called, it was all worth it for Dalton Thrower.
Being taken 51st overall by the Montreal Canadiens at the NHL draft is big enough for the Saskatoon Blades defender, who can turn a crowd on by scoring a goal from his blueline spot or by accepting a challenge to fight from one of the Western Hockey League's reigning tough guys. Being drafted validates every time during his rookie season when he was 15 years old and knew being strong for his family meant staying with the Blades while his dad, Murray, underwent painful treatment for a cancerous tumour in his stomach. Or seven years ago when he stiff-upper-lipped for his two younger siblings while his mom, Melanie, battled an aggressive form of breast cancer.
"It's huge, I just want to thank everybody that's helped through me all of it," Thrower said Saturday morning at the Consol Energy Center. "I've had great family and friend support, pulling me through the hard times. For them to do everything that they did for me... Both my parents went through cancer. It's helped me come a long way.
"There were times when I wanted to go home and I wanted to be with my family," added Thrower, who plays junior 1,500 km away from his home in North Vancouver, B.C. "But the supporting family they are, they helped me get through the hard times."
The Habs are well-aware of what Thrower and his support system, including his parents and siblings, 16-year-old Calgary Hitmen prospect Josh Thrower and 10-year-old sister Danae, have overcome in order for him to become a NHL prospect. As the Saskatoon StarPhoenix related earlier this week, when Dalton was six, the family survived a car crash where their vehicle hit a patch of black ice on a mountain highway and everyone but Dalton was thrown from their vehicle.
The Montreal scouts also know by no means is the struggle over. Being drafted means a player's hockey road will only get tougher.
"We know that he's mentally strong," said Trevor Timmins, Montreal's director of procurement and player development. "The proof is right there.
"We know he's gone through a lot and hopefully we can help him in the future."
Dalton Thrower was a little reticent to revisit all that for a phalanx of media who perhaps didn't know about all of that. He did think of many people he has to thank.
"I can't even count, to be honest with you. It's been a real struggle for all of us."
Thrower's guard dropped when asked about his father. Murray Thrower is still receiving chemotherapy in pill form. But he's leading a regular life and was in the stands to see his oldest son get drafted by an Original Six team.
"He's a lot better, he's getting a lot better," Dalton Thrower said. "He's back at work. He's still doing chemotherapy. He's looking good and I'm very grateful to have both my parents.
"I've had grow up fast," he added. "I have two younger siblings. It's brought us closer as a family."
Two people Thrower has put in his heart are the billet parents he's lived with during his entire run with the Blades, Jackie and Roger Bahnmann, who weren't able to make it to Pittsburgh. Becoming comfortable with a surrogate family isn't always a slam dunk with junior hockey players. Some players can go through several billets, so being with the same one for three seasons kind of jumps out.
"They're my other family, that's for sure," he said. "I have to thank them."
Thrower, who is 5-foot-11¾ and 200 pounds, fit in with the Habs' emphasis on skill and speed at this draft. He had 18 goals and 54 points this season for the Blades and has good enough wheels to be aggressive when playing a puck carrier 1-on-1. His hard edge on the ice could best be summed up by the fact he fought Washington Capitals first-rounder Tom Wilson at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, even though he was giving up about four inches to the 6-foot-3½, 205-pound winger.
There was some buzz about Thrower going in the first round on Friday night. In the context of the draft, going later in Round 2 might have seemed like a rough deal. Knowing his family's story, it seemed absurd when he was asked about the adversity of falling out of Round 1.
It's a standard hockey question, but after everything, what is waiting one more night to be selected? A smile tugged at the corner of Dalton Thrower's mouth but he preserved his media-mix-zone face.
"I'm not too worried about it," he said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.