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NJ Devils surprise Toms River 13-year-old by drafting him

Reilly Hoagland, who has cystic fibrosis, is a hockey player and huge Devils fan. They rolled out the red carpet in conjunction with Make-A-Wish New Jersey.

Jerry Carino
Asbury Park Press

Reilly Hoagland always wondered what it would be like to get drafted by his favorite hockey team, the New Jersey Devils.

On Tuesday, the Toms River 13-year-old didn’t have to imagine.

The Devils, in conjunction with Make-A-Wish New Jersey, made Reilly an honorary selection on day one of the NHL Draft. The right winger for the Toms River Blackhawks youth hockey team, who is a cystic fibrosis patient, got the red-carpet treatment: a home visit from two Devils alums and the team mascot, a video message from the general manager, and his very own No. 8 jersey.

“On behalf of the New Jersey Devils organization, I would like to welcome you and our family to our family,” general manager and executive vice president Tom Fitzgerald told Reilly. “I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about you, from your speed, your shot, your passion, your commitment — all the characteristics we value as a New Jersey Devil. I look forward to seeing you at the rink soon.”

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Toms River 13-year-old Reilly Hoagland is presented with a jersey from New Jersey Devils alums Bruce Driver and Grant Marshall.

Former Devils players Bruce Driver and Grant Marshall presented Reilly with his jersey and a “contract” for keepsake purposes. The Devils will host Reilly and his family as special guests at the Prudential Center sometime next year.

“It’s great to have the addition of another New Jersey guy on the team,” longtime Devils player Travis Zajac said in a video message. “Congrats on your big day and see you at the Rock real soon.”

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Reilly Hoagland with his family members after the Devils made him an honorary draft pick.

Reilly was diagnosed at age 4 with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes lung infections and makes it hard to breathe. It’s progressive, which means it ends in respiratory failure, but patients’ life expectancy has risen dramatically over the past two decades thanks to advances in treatment. Despite the challenges, Reilly is a dedicated hockey player.

“When we heard Reilly’s story through our friends at Make-A-Wish New Jersey to become a New Jersey Devil, we knew we had to make it happen and pull out all of the stops along the way,” New Jersey Devils President Jake Reynolds said.

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Reilly Hoagland takes a few slapshots in his New Jersey Devils jersey

Reilly found out when he answered a knock on the door Tuesday.

“It was unexpected,” he said.

After getting the news, Reilly slipped on his new Devils jersey and began taking slapshots in his driveway. The Devils aired his story as part of their draft night live stream.

“Definitely a great memory,” dad Sean Hoagland said.

Founded in 1983, Make-A-Wish New Jersey has granted over 11,000 wishes to children throughout the state. For more information, call 800-252-WISH or visit nj.wish.org.

Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.