An annual event, Hockey Fights Cancer features support from every team in the NHL, each organizing a variety of different functions that help to promote the endeavor and give back to the community. For the Avalanche, this period consisted of a handful of different events, beginning with the Break the Ice skate at Pepsi Center on Oct. 23.
Roughly 30 kids—and their siblings, parents and family members—from Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation were hosted at Pepsi Center by Colorado forwards Matt Duchene and Alex Tanguay, Altitude TV color analyst Peter McNab, Avs mascot Bernie and the Avalanche Ice Girls. The participants got the opportunity to take the ice, skating with those in attendance and playing with sticks and pucks.
“It really means a lot to the siblings of my cancer kid,” said Erin Anderson, a mother who brought her family out for the skate. “My 4-year-old daughter is fighting cancer, but her older brothers—who are 12 and 8—it means so much to them to know that Avalanche players are supporting their sister, and to come out and to meet them.
“They’ve had a rough road. So it’s nice to come out and meet Avalanche players and get a little celebrity love.”
Break the Ice, an annual event, is special not just for the kids and families, but for the players as well. It gives them a chance to bring some good-natured fun to those who have been dealing with the hardships that come with the disease.
“I know, when I grew up, you always look up to sports personalities or actors or people in the limelight, and certainly some of those kids love hockey,” said Tanguay during the skate. “The kids are so special. You see their spirits and their smiles. We all know what they’re battling through, and to see the smile on their face, it’s all worth it.
“I played goalie for the most part of the day. I can’t say I’m very good or at least I wasn’t very good during that time, but the kids are so happy to be here.”
Skating with the attendees on the Avalanche’s home ice keeps things in perspective for Duchene.
“It’s an amazing building. Not many people get to skate on an NHL rink. I know a lot of kids back home in my hometown would be really jealous of all these kids out here right now, skating around and having fun,” said Duchene. “It’s amazing they get to do this, and really special for myself to be out here. It’s an honor, and they’re big inspirations to us, for sure.”
Both Tanguay and Duchene have seen the affect that cancer can have up close, which makes an event like Break the Ice much more personal and humbling to them.
“Unfortunately, you know someone or you’ve been affected by it. For us, it was in 2010 while I was in Tampa,” said Tanguay. “My mother-in-law got diagnosed with stomach cancer through Christmas time. It’s a very difficult situation, and I know how hard it is on the family, on the siblings, on the friends.”
For the 23-year-old Duchene, his brush with cancer is something that stays with him every day.
“A friend of mine back a ways passed away. Ten years old, and he fought cancer for five years of his life,” said Duchene. “He was asked to be buried in my jersey, and that was something that meant a lot to me and still means a lot to me, that I was able to have an effect on someone’s life like that. He’s a big inspiration to me.
“His name was Dawson. I see his face in all of these kids. A lot of them are the same age, and I miss the little guy like crazy. These kids here are fighting hard, and it’s awesome to see them smiling and having fun.”
Hockey Fights Cancer continued two days later with a weekend of open ice. There were a variety of activities, which ranged from family skates and broomball games to the Dawg Nation Survivor Hockey Game, featuring participants who are survivors of, or are currently battling cancer or other life-threatening diseases.
The biggest night of all is always the special Hockey Fights Cancer game, which sees Pepsi Center transform in an effort to promote and educate those of the ongoing events. This year it took place on Nov. 6 as the Avalanche faced off against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lavender—the official color of the initiative—took over the building and was seen in the lighting in the grand atrium, as well as on the sponsorship boards at ice level. The addition of the new color didn’t end there either. Team broadcasters and Avalanche coaching staff and executives sported this year’s Hockey Fights Cancer tie, and the home team donned special, purple jerseys for warmup, which were auctioned off to raise money for the cause.
Prior to the drop of the puck, the Avs had Laird Krodel Smith on the ice during the anthems as the Avalanche Youth Skater of the game. At age 4, Krodel Smith was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. After undergoing surgery and five months of chemotherapy, he has now been cancer-free for three years. Krodel Smith received an uproarious standing ovation from the crowd while on the ice.
Fans were treated to an exciting back and forth game that night, with the Avalanche and Maple Leafs trading goals all the way up through the third period. The scoring started just 31 seconds in when Nick Holden dished the puck into a vacant net and ended with Duchene, Tanguay and Nathan MacKinnon all burying chances in the shootout for a 4-3 victory.
The emotional game capped off an emotional evening for the players, who cherish what Hockey Fights Cancer does to bring about awareness for the disease.
“I think it’s important, not just for me. It’s important for everybody. I think everybody knows that cancer is around us, everywhere, and we still have to battle against it,” said rear guard Jan Hejda. “My grandfather died because of prostate cancer, and it was a hard last few years of his life. The last years of his life weren’t very nice because of that. It started as prostate cancer, and he had some therapies but the cancer spread to his brain. The last couple of years were especially rough. Nobody wants to go through that.”
Through raising money via auctions and donations, connecting with those affected by the disease, and promoting awareness through the numerous endeavors around North America, the Colorado Avalanche, in conjunction with the NHL and Kroenke Sports Charities, has made a positive impact on the community and the effort to find a cure. Once again, Hockey Fights Cancer was a resounding success.