On Jan. 24, 1989, in a high school varsity hockey game between Fond du Lac and Middleton turned into a tragedy ingrained in the minds of teammates, fans and family members. At the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds ice rink, 15-year-old Jeff Merrill, a sophomore wing on the Fond du Lac hockey team, died after he took a shot to the chest from a hockey puck.
Thirty years later, members of the community still remember the outgoing hockey player, and the team is celebrating his memory with a JM 21 Night tonight, Saturday January 26, 2019 during Fond du Lac’s game against Arrowhead – scheduled game time is 7:00 PM.
Kent Ellingson came up with the idea for the memorial night, was a sophomore like Merrill in 1989. Both Ellingson and Merrill started on the varsity program as freshmen and had grown up through the Fond du Lac hockey community since they were about 8.
Jeff’s No. 21 was retired from the Fond du Lac hockey program and the team awards the Jeff Merrill Assist Award to the player with the most assists in a season.
Members of the Fond du Lac community, including former teammates will celebrate Merrill’s life at the JM21 Night. Ellingson said at least 15 members of the team will be coming, including Cory Raymer, who lives in Virginia, and several former teammates living in Minnesota. The Merrill family, including Jeff’s parents, also will be attending.
Before the game, the Merrill family and Jeff’s former teammates will be introduced on the ice. To honor No. 21, fans and players will partake in a 21-second moment of silence. The Merrill family will do a ceremonial puck drop between the captains of the Fond du Lac and Arrowhead teams.
Members of the Fond du Lac and Arrowhead teams will wear JM21 stickers. Ellingson and other former teammates will speak with the Fond du Lac team Friday about Merrill’s impact on the Fond du Lac hockey community.