I’ve been reading about how different teams are marking “Hockey Fights Cancer” this month, and my respect has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s heartwarming to see what different teams are doing to raise awareness and money for cancer charities. All 30 teams are taking part by having players wear special emblems on their helmets, and having coaches and broadcast staff wear special purple ties and pins.
But as I delved deeper into my research for an article in another publication, I was struck by how much more some teams do to celebrate “Hockey Fights Cancer.”
Here are just a few:
Detroit Red Wings. This team is simply amazing. The Wings rolled out the red… err… pink carpet on October 24th during the game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Players used pink tape on their sticks during the pre-game skate then autographed those sticks for a silent auction. The ties also were autographed and auctioned off. They also auctioned off: a specially designed goalie mask signed by Ty Conklin, Dominik Hasek, Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood; and Valtteri Filppula’s game-worn jersey from the January 2, 2007 game during which the team retired Steve Yzerman’s #19. This could have been enough, but they went even further. Every fan who wore pink to the game was eligible to win autographed Red Wings memorabilia. The fan with the best pink outfit won an autographed Chris Chelios jersey. Think this is all? Think again. The team set up a booth to sell breast cancer awareness items. The wives and girlfriends sold $20 pucks featuring a player’s autograph. And to cap it off, the team hosted breast cancer patients, survivors and their families in an executive suite.
San Jose Sharks. This team didn’t designate one night for “Hockey Fights Cancer” events. They spread it out over several nights. The Sharks held auctions of autographed memorabilia at games on October 14 and 18. They also hosted “Team in Training” honorees for the October 14th game. Proceeds from that night’s auction benefited Camp Kesem at Stanford University. Camp Kesem is a summer camp for children between the ages of 6 and 13 whose parents are cancer patients and survivors. For the October 18th game, the Sharks hosted the Children’s Cancer Community, which helps families who have a child with cancer by offering up programs like monthly support groups, educational scholarships, cancer survival kits and a library. To cap things off, Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and forward Jody Shelley hosted a meet and greet at each game with young cancer patients and their families.
Philadelphia Flyers. This team has taken “Hockey Fights Cancer” to a personal level. They’ve teamed up with Rosemary Brahin, a local woman who is battling breast cancer, to get out the message about the importance of breast cancer awareness and the need for early detection. Rosemary is in remission and has launched her own production company to produce stories for the group Breastcancer.org. Rosemary’s story has touched goalie Marty Biron, who lost a cousin following a two and a half year battle with breast cancer. He also counts and aunt and grandmother among cancer survivors. The Flyers set up special booths for their game on October 13th, to sell special items with all proceeds benefiting Breastcancer.org and another charity, “Living Beyond Breast Cancer.” Both groups had representatives on hand to answer questions and hand out information. Fans were encouraged to wear pink or lavender to the game and anyone who bought an item from Breastcancer.org were entered into a drawing to win a jersey autographed by Biron.
New York Islanders. This team’s approach to celebrating “Hockey Fights Cancer” touched me deeply. The team invited cancer survivors or their families to take part in pre-game activities on October 23rd. The man who sang the National Anthem lost his wife to cancer. They invited an 8 year old boy whose leukemia is in remission, to be stick boy for the game. The Executive Director of the cancer charity 1 in 9 Hewlett House dropped the ceremonial puck. Players used pink tape then autographed them for a silent auction. Members of 1 in 9 Hewlett House, Long Island Breast Cancer Action Caltion and Cancer Care of Long Island, set up booths to answer questions and hand out information.
Washington Capitals. The Caps hosted their fundraising night on October 18th. They paid tribute to season ticket holders who have battled, beaten, helped treat or lost loved ones to cancer. They invited these men, women and children to center ice for a special ceremony. Among those who took part, were Caps players Matt Bradley and Shaone Morrison, who both lost their mothers to cancer. The team also auctioned off autographed practice jerseys from ten players, including star Alexander Ovechkin. They also auctioned off limited edition “Hockey Fights Cancer” jerseys autographed by various players. They also invited representatives from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to sell special items and share information about the charity.
Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks held their "Hockey Fights Cancer" event on Tuesday, October 28th. The team invited three cancer charities: The Canadian Cancer Society, BC Cancer Agency and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to set up information booths at GM Place. A group of young cancer patients from the Oncology ward of Children's hospital was invited to watch the Canucks take on the Bruins in comfort, in a luxury suite purchased by goalie and Captain Robert Luongo. The suite is called "Lui's Crease Club" and is located in the 200 level of GM Place.
Dallas Stars. The Stars held their event on October 25th and for one player, the pain is still fresh. Defenseman Phillipe Boucher’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer last year. He still chose to take part in the event because he knows so many people who are dealing with the same battle, feeling the same painful loss. And according to Stars fan and Connector TrueFan, the team donated $10,000 to the Clayton Dabney Foundation for Kids with Cancer. It was founded after 6 year old Clayton lost his battle with cancer.
Pittsburgh Penguins. I saved my favorite team for last. The Penguins went all out for "Hockey Fights Cancer". Sidney Crosby has purchased a luxury suite at Mellon Arena for various charities to use. The first guests were a group of young cancer patients from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Penguins coaching, management and broadcast staff are also sporting the customary purple ties and pins. Wives and girlfriends of Penguins players handed out commemorative ribbon pins to the first 3,000 women entering the arena for the October 18th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team invited representatives from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the American Cancer Society to set up information booths at the game. The Penguins are also among a number of teams selling a commemorative book: "The NHL Hockey Year in Photographs".
I could go on and on. Time and time again, I’ve seen players show their softer sides, often out of the glare of the spotlight.
I’ve written about tough guys who will go out of their way to help others. Tough guys like Georges Laraque, who drove several hours to visit a dying boy because the boy’s last wish was to meet his hero.
These are guys who, while some may be very well paid for their talents, don’t pull down the sometimes obscene salaries commanded, no, demanded by their counterparts in other sports, especially baseball and football.
These are guys who celebrate Stanley Cup wins by taken the cup back to their hometowns, to share their victory with the humble communities who helped raise them. Who release their inner kids by using the Cup to make a massive and memorable ice cream sundae to be shared by anyone with a spoon.
Reading about all the tremendous things the NHL, its teams and players do under the banner of “Hockey Fights Cancer” proves again that I have picked the right sport to follow, and count myself lucky to call other NHL fans, “friend.”