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Cancer patient has unforgettable time at NHL Awards

Tuesday, 06.24.2014 / 8:22 PM / 2014 NHL Awards

By Shawn Roarke - Director, Editorial

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Cancer patient has unforgettable time at NHL Awards
Will Lacey, a 9-year-old who's spent his life battling a form of cancer, had the experience of a lifetime at the NHL Awards with Tuukka Rask.

LAS VEGAS -- Will Lacey slipped on the sparkly ring easily, its size so big he might easily slip over two of his 9-year-old fingers instead of the one it rested upon Tuesday afternoon.

He looked at the sparkly ring in amazement, then at the man who had just given it to him, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, with equal amazement. His gaze soon returned to the ring, a freshly-minted piece of jewelry Subban received from Hockey Canada to commemorate Canada's gold-medal triumph at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Then his gaze returned a beaming Subban.

"You going to wear that for a while or you going to give it back?" said Subban, a smile lighting up his face as he teased Lacey.

For Lacey, on hand for his first NHL Awards at the Wynn Hotel, it was the highlight of an unforgettable night. He couldn't stop talking about the ring.

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is joined by 9-year-old youth hockey player and cancer patient Will Lacey on the red carpet prior to the 2014 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. (Photo: Getty Images)

"It was pretty big and pretty cool," said Lacey, a guest of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Lacey walked the 2014 NHL Awards red carpet with Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

"It wasn't too heavy. It might have weighed a pound or an ounce."

Excuse Lacey for being a little shy on the details; it was hard for him to describe anything on this day. He had met so many famous people, had his picture taken by paparazzi, buddied around with Rask, one of his hockey heroes, and appeared on NHL Network, home to his favorite show, "NHL on the Fly."

To make it even better, he knew all of his friends from his elementary school and his squirt hockey team in Braintree, Mass., had just seen him appear with Rask and NHL analyst Kevin Weekes. The well-dressed Weekes even took time to note how sharp Lacey looked in his suit, custom-made by designer John Varvatos.

"The NHL Network stop right at the end of the red carpet," Lacey said of his favorite part of the night. "My friends probably have it on right now."

Just when he thought it couldn't get any better, Lacey was called to the stage by actor Cuba Gooding Jr. and former NHL player Adam Graves to introduce the winner of the NHL Foundation Player Award, Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Lacey received a standing ovation from the packed Encore Theater.

It has been quite a journey to this point for Lacey.

When Lacey was six months old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rear childhood cancer. When he was 2, his parents were told by his doctors that the cancer was incurable.

But Will and his parents were not ready to abandon the fight. They found a doctor, Giselle Sholler, who led Will through aggressive treatments.

"His whole life has been about treatment," said his dad, Patrick Lacey, who accompanied him on this trip of a lifetime.

Throughout all the hardships caused by the disease and the high doses of chemotherapy and radiation to fight it, hockey remained Will's anchor. As soon as he was able to walk, Will held a hockey stick, carrying it with him everywhere he went. When he was well enough, he played the game in any form he could find, including organized hockey in his town's rec league.

"By the time he was 2, he was always playing hockey, always watching it," Patrick said. "He just had that passion for the game. When he was sick or out of surgery, he was never 'Woe is me.' He just wanted to get back up and start playing again."

After three years of smooth sailing for Will, he had a setback last year, suffering a brain hemorrhage that doctors believed was caused by the invasive treatments he had received throughout his life. But Will again pulled through after a surgical procedure.

"After the surgery, we were back in a month later and the surgeon met with him showing him before-and-after photos from the surgery. Will was like, 'Whoa, whoa, when can I start playing hockey again? That's the way he looks at it."

Like Rask, Lacey is a goalie, although he says he wants to try playing right wing next season.

Relaying the story about the doctor and his son's desire to return to the game, Patrick couldn't stop smiling at the bravery his son showed and the rewards being bestowed about upon him during Awards weekend.

"For him to be here is a dream come true," the dad said.

For Rask, it was a privilege to share Lacey's dream for the night. He made sure Lacey was involved in everything the red carpet had to offer, introducing him to reporters, making sure he was in the photos taken during stops on the red carpet and sharing small talk as they walked the gauntlet of fans.

"We're both shocked because we have never doing anything like this before," Rask said. "We'll get through it together."