The moment that Camden Nuckols saw the Orlando Solar Bears play during their first season in the defunct International Hockey League in 1995, his life changed.
"He just said, 'I want to play hockey,''' said his mother, Susan.
Nuckols was 5 years old at the time.
He not only played the sport. Nuckols officiated it, too, honing his craft during games for the Orlando Youth Hockey Association (OYHA) and area men's leagues. He became an ECHL linesman when the Solar Bears debuted in that league in 2012.
Nuckols, a Lake Mary Prep and UCF graduate, died on Nov. 17 in Orlando after a brief illness. He was 25. The Solar Bears will honor Nuckols with a moment of silence before their game against the South Carolina Stingrays at 7 Tuesday night at Amway Center and will wear his jersey number 32 on their helmets for the rest of this season.
"Regardless of his hockey career and his officiating career, he was just a very well-respected person, period,'' OYHA President Louis DiPaolo said. "He always had a smile on his face. He was so well-loved and respected for how he treated people in a game that is pretty intense.''
Because of a rare disease called congenital erythropoietic porphyria (CEP), Nuckols could not play outdoor sports because he couldn't be in direct sunlight. Only several hundred cases of CEP have been reported, according to rarediseasesnetwork.org. Nuckols' parents, who live in Longwood, are starting a foundation in Camden's honor to help those afflicted with CEP.
Hockey was perfect for Nuckols and, as it turned out, vice versa. He was part of a state championship team at RDV Sportsplex several years ago and was a linesman for 61 regular-season and two postseason ECHL games.
"He couldn't play baseball and football and other things that were difficult for him,'' said Nuckols' father, Cardwell. "It was a way for him to express himself.''
Said Susan: "He may have done things at different times of the day, but he never let it hold him back. He found ways around the roadblocks.''
Joe Ernst, ECHL vice president of hockey operations, is responsible for assigning officials to the league's games. All ECHL on-ice officials will wear Nuckols' 32 on their helmets for the remainder of this season, too.
"There's a lot of people — not just in officiating — in this world who think they are entitled to something,'' Ernst said. "He had absolutely zero entitlement. He just wanted to go out and do his job the best that he could, and that's what he did.''
Nuckols' life was not centered only on hockey, though.
An only child, he was engaged to Kelsey Carew. He graduated with an economics degree from UCF last December and was working in the finance department of Catholic Charities.
He was passionate about animal rescue and adopted a rescue dog last year that he named Moose.
"He got to live out a lot of his dreams,'' Cardwell Nuckols said. "His life ended way too short, but he was always the consummate professional, the person who was always there for others.
"I just admire him. I have to say he is someone that I looked up to.''
Funeral arrangements are pending.