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Hockey Player’s Best Friend Keeps Watch at Tier II 18U Nationals

By Steve Drumwright, 04/02/22, 3:45PM MDT


Montana Big Sky Stars’ Isaac Jensen’s dog Oshie is trained to smell a dangerous change in the diabetic’s blood sugar on or off the ice

If you see an English Yellow Labrador wandering around the rinks at Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena in Irvine, California, this weekend during the Chipotle-USA Hockey Youth Tier II 18U National Championships, the dog isn’t lost, nor is it a mascot for one of the 36 teams.

No, this is a story about a boy and a dog — a very special dog, with a name any hockey fan would love.

Isaac Jensen has Type 1 diabetes, the less common and more severe form where the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep the body’s blood sugar level from getting too high or too low.

The 17-year-old Jensen from Whitefish, Montana — who plays for the Montana Big Sky Stars in the 1A bracket at Nationals — was diagnosed with Type 1 when he was 7. But it wasn’t until Jensen was in fifth grade that he was paired up with his pal for life, Oshie.

“I was at a camp for snowboarding and skiing and saw a service dog there,” Jensen said. “We thought it could help us out.”

While service dogs for the blind act as the eyes for their companion, Oshie has been specially trained to detect through his sense of smell when Jensen’s blood sugar is broaching the higher or lower levels of what is acceptable before it can cause the body to negatively react.

There are a handful of NHL players who also manage their Type 1 diabetes and have publicly spoken about how they manage the disease throughout their strenuous careers including Max Domi, Luke Kunin and Kaapo Kakko.

Diaun Jensen, Isaac’s mom, said the family worked with Diabetic Alert Dogs of America to narrow down the choices, with Isaac choosing the yellow Lab. The decision to pick the name Oshie was a no-brainer.

“Ever since I was little, I kind of started getting into hockey,” Jensen said. “When I really started watching hockey as a kid was the [2014] Olympics, where T.J. Oshie had his shootout goal and got the spotlight. Ever since then, he has been one of my favorite players.”

While Jensen hasn’t had a chance to interact with his favorite NHL player, who converted on four of six shootout opportunities against Russia in a preliminary game at the Sochi Olympics, he does have a signed puck from the Washington Capitals forward. Jensen also wears No. 7 when available, a nod to Oshie’s 77.

After the family flew down to Phoenix to pick up the dog, there was an opportunity to talk with someone who knows what Jensen deals with. Domi, who currently plays for the Carolina Hurricanes, was then a member of the Arizona Coyotes, who selected the forward with the 12th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Domi too had a canine companion to help him manage his Type 1 diabetes as he made his way in the NHL.

“It was kind of huge,” Jensen said of meeting Domi. “It was kind of big for my life to see that I can do stuff that I want to do and I can still push myself.”

So how does Oshie the dog help Jensen? It is easier when the two are closer as Oshie can be close to Jensen and paw at him when he is getting close to hypoglycemia (blood sugar reading of 70 and below) or hyperglycemia (150 and above).

But Oshie is also very good in crowds, including hockey rinks full of other people and all of the associated smells of the game from popcorn to hockey gear. Yes, with Oshie sitting with Jensen’s parents, Chris and Diaun, on the opposite side of the rink, he can pierce through the various aromas to know whether Jensen is in danger.

“He knows when we’re at a hockey rink for sure,” Diaun Jensen said. “And even though he doesn’t see Isaac necessarily because of course [Isaac] gets dropped off early all the time and then we go in later, but he knows he’s there for sure. He does alert while Isaac is on the ice while we’re somewhere up in the stands. When he first started doing that, we’re just like, ‘There’s no way you can smell him.’ But then we talked to trainers, they assured us that absolutely he could smell him and that he’s most likely right and can smell him and that his blood sugar is off.”

Oshie was trained to know Jensen’s smells at the high and low levels through the swabbing of his mouth with cotton balls. Pawing at Jensen or whoever is closest is just one alert Oshie gives. Others are pacing around nervously, moaning or even barking.

Diaun Jensen vividly recalls a time when Oshie came to the rescue as her son was sleeping.

“I could just feel [Oshie’s] presence by me and I woke up and he was staring and probably had been pawing at the bed,” she said. “I woke up and went to test Isaac and his blood sugar was definitely high and the reason it was high is because Isaac had forgotten to reconnect his [insulin] pump after a shower and before bed. So that definitely could have resulted into a very bad situation by morning time as hours passed. That was probably one of the most critical moments, but honestly, with Isaac being a teenager, his blood sugars are off multiple times of the day and Oshie seizes on it.”

From the time the Jensens got Oshie, the dog accompanied Isaac to school, which also helped with explaining to his classmates his condition. With his studies intensifying, Jensen made the tough call midway through last school year, as a sophomore, that he needed to focus more and stopped taking Oshie to classes. Jensen said he wants to bring Oshie back to school during his senior year.

Oshie isn’t the only method Jensen relies on to keep his blood sugar on track. He also has a monitor. But like any good boy, Oshie often is ahead of the technology, warning his best friend he is in the danger zone 15 minutes before the monitor.

“Oshie is super important,” Jensen said. “He helps me out a lot, just not having to be on top of it as much myself.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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