A Brooklyn teenager with testicular cancer had his “biggest wish” granted when he became an honorary New York Ranger — signing a five day contract with the NHL team and practicing with his hero Henrik Lundqvist.
Moshe Illouz, 18, was diagnosed with the disease at 17 and spent the majority of his high school senior year in and out of hospitals. While most of his friends were playing hockey (his favorite sport) and applying for college, Moshe was undergoing chemotherapy and surgeries — fighting for his life.
“But I never gave up and I never will,” Moshe, who is currently in remission, tells PEOPLE. “Just like in hockey, you have to keep fighting, you can never give up!”
Through Madison Square Garden’s Garden of Dreams Foundation, Moshe was given the opportunity to train with the New York Rangers, attend the team’s annual charity Casino Night and sit next to stars like Chris Kreider and Ryan McDonagh on the bench before a game.
“It was literally my dream come true,” says Moshe. “After such a long fight, it was incredible that something I’ve dreamed about since a little kid came true.”
A native New Yorker, Moshe grew up going to Rangers games with his family.
“It’s funny I always dreamed of playing for the team,” Moshe, a goalie on his high school hockey team, says. “But never in a million years did I actually think it would happen.”
On February 15, Moshe signed a five-day contract with Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton and suited up in goalie gear to practice with Henrik Lundqvist.
On the same day, Moshe and Rangers players Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner, were fitted by menswear designer John Varvatos at one of his Manhattan stores.
“Moshe is so exuberant and full of life and happy,” Kreider, a 25-year-old winger, tells PEOPLE. “I draw so much inspiration from him. He’s an inspiring human being and a hero whether or not he wants to be.”
Kreider, who says the team “loved having Moshe around,” hopes the two stay in touch in the future.
“Hopefully he’ll be around!” he say with a laugh. “We really liked hanging out with him, the kid is all smiles, especially for someone who has gone through something so horrible.”
Moshe met up with the Rangers again on February 17 at the team’s Casino Night, which supports the Garden of Dreams Foundation to help kids from the tristate area facing homelessness, extreme poverty and illness.
“When we talk about the toughness of a hockey player, he’s got that times ten,”Adam Graves, Garden of Dreams board member and alumni relations representative for the Rangers, tells PEOPLE. “The guys love him, what he’s done for the spirit of this team is incredible.”
“He’s a Ranger for life!”
“It’s truly been the best experience,” says Moshe, who is hopeful his testicular cancer will not come back. “It’s a week I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”