Cancer is a disease that has touched the lives of nearly every person, and hockey players are no different.
When the Colorado Avalanche takes the ice for tonight's Hockey Fights Cancer contest at Pepsi Center against the Carolina Hurricanes, many of the players will have a moment to reflect on those friends, family members or acquaintances that have fought or continue to fight for their lives.
For Avs defenseman Mark Barberio, the reminder is in the form of former teammate Brian Boyle, who currently plays for the New Jersey Devils. Boyle was diagnosed during training camp in September with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare form of blood and bone marrow cancer, but made his return to the ice and season debut on Wednesday night.
"It is great to see him comeback, and it is just one example," Barberio said of Boyle. "I think everybody in this room has an example of being touched by cancer."
Boyle is one of those guys that players gravitate toward in the league. He's a leader that helps young players grow and adjust to life in the NHL.
He was that type of person for Barberio when the two were teammates on the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15. Boyle was in his first year on the Florida gulf coast after five years with the New York Rangers, while Barberio, then 24, was in his second NHL season but was still trying to find his role in the league.
"We were pretty close," Barberio said. "If you know him, he comes from a big family and he is a big brother-type guy. In Tampa, a lot of guys looked up to him. Very easy to talk to, a very easy-going guy."
Video: Barberio before Avs host Hurricanes
An NHL and NHLPA initiative, Hockey Fights Cancer has raised awareness and $18 million to support national and local cancer research institutions, pediatric hospitals, player charities and local charities over the last 19 years. All 31 NHL clubs have a designated Hockey Fights Cancer game to bring in-arena awareness with unique programming and partnerships with local cancer organizations.
Lavender is the official color of Hockey Fights Cancer and will be prominent this evening at Pepsi Center.
The Avalanche players will wear special lavender jerseys during warmup, which will then be auctioned off with proceeds benefiting cancer-related charities of the organization. Colorado's coaches and broadcasters will also don commemorative ties and pins to show their support.
In addition, there will be special-colored hockey tape, dasher boards and lighting for the occasion.
Throughout the night, fans will also be able to fill out a "I Fight For" placard and get their picture taken with it at a photo station outside section 144. The photos will then be added to a digital mosaic that will be completed by the end of the contest.
Video: Greer before Avs vs. Hurricanes
The Hockey Fights Cancer game is an event that rookie forward A.J. Greer is looking forward to.
"It means a lot," Greer said. "My grandma on my dad's side went through it. She passed away from lung cancer. My mother had cancer five years ago--it's actually going to be six years in late November. So for me, it's an important cause because I've went through it and I know how everyone feels to have a loved one or a family member go through it."
Greer has used his avenue of being a hockey player to assist others. He has frequented children's hospitals in Quebec and San Antonio, and he continues to do the same in Colorado to brighten the day of the young patients.
It is a combination of his two passions, hockey and helping people.
"I love to help at the children's hospital with kids with cancer. I love doing that, so to me it's an important game and is something that should be addressed a lot more than it is," Greer said. "The league has done a great job today to raise awareness with these colors and with all of these games around the league."
The fight to end cancer isn't a one-night affair and isn't close to being over.
It is an everyday battle for those affected by the disease, but they're not doing it alone. Continued support is vital, and the Avs and the rest of the hockey community is proud to be right there, fighting alongside for a cure.
LINEUP NOTES AND INJURY UPDATES
The Avalanche's lineup for this evening's game against the Carolina Hurricanes will be nearly identical to the one the team iced on Saturday when it defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 6-3. The only exception will be in goal, where netminder Semyon Varlamov will guard the pipes for the eighth occasion this season.
Colorado's healthy scratches will once again be defensemen Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov was also out of lineup for the last two contests, while this will mark Bigras' second-straight game that he has watched.
The Avs have four players currently on their injured-reserve list: forwards Gabriel Bourque (upper body), J.T. Compher (broken thumb), Tyson Jost (lower body) and Colin Wilson (hip).
All four of Colorado's hurt players skated before Wednesday's practice, with it marking the first time Jost and Wilson had hit the ice during their recent bouts with injuries.
Head coach Jared Bednar noted that Compher may start practicing with the team in a playing cast to protect his hand and so he can stickhandle and get a feel for the puck again. The center could possibly return to action when the Avs are in Sweden to take on the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 10-11.
Video: Coach Jared Bednar before hosting the Hurricanes
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Sven Andrighetto - Matt Duchene - Rocco Grimaldi
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
A.J. Greer - Alexander Kerfoot - Nail Yakupov
Anton Lindholm - Erik Johnson
Patrik Nemeth - Tyson Barrie
Andrei Mironov - Mark Barberio