CHICOPEE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A 16-year-old Chicopee Comp. student lives, breathes, and loves hockey.

Unfortunately, his family is in a tough financial position, and it can be a costly sport.

That's why his mom is passing the puck to the Surprise Squad for help.

Robert Mercer, better known as RJ, is a goalie for the Pioneer Valley Lightning, a youth hockey association serving several local communities.

"It started in the kitchen," said RJ. "I always got yelled at, but it was fun for me."

A true die-hard fan.

"He sleeps in goalie pads," said RJ's mom Amy Mercer tells us.

"It's just an outlet for me," stated RJ.

At sixteen, this is RJ's first year on a team, because of several ongoing hardships.

"We were floating between hotels in the summer," said RJ. "Our father left us at a young age."

As a single mom with three boys, ages fourteen, sixteen, and eighteen, Amy tells Western Mass News they struggle financially, especially with hockey.

"Last year," continued Amy. "I lost not only our apartment, but I lost my job too."

RJ originally took up lawn care to earn extra money for hockey equipment.

"He used it for other things," says Amy. "Household things, [and] helped out his brother with stuff."

That's where we come in, and the Western Mass News Surprise Squad wanted to give RJ some new equipment.

"I'll definitely use this tomorrow night for practice," said RJ.

That's not all.

We also gave RJ a chest protector, and Bertelli Skate Shop threw in free skate sharpening.

We're also going behind-the-scenes with the Springfield Thunderbirds.

"I'm like a kid in a candy store," stated RJ.

Off the ice, Thunderbirds left wing Bobby Farnham, and center Harry Zolnierczyk added to the surprise.

"You guys let us know anytime you want to come to the game," says Farnham. "You can come to a game. When I heard your story, it's incredible so just keep going. Do what you love. If hockey's one of the things you love, then do it as long as you can."

"It's been a struggle, but," said Amy. "We always had each other's back."

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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