Anders Lee has delivered some pre-game speeches in his life, but he probably never had to give one as emotional as the one on Sunday.
The Islanders' captain delivered an eloquent eulogy when he spoke about Fenov Pierre-Louis, Lee's friend and his inspiration for his annual Kan Jam charity tournaments.
Lee spoke about their friendship, how infectious his smile was and how Fenov had changed his perspective on life. With his arm around Fenov's mother, Lee spoke about how he, a professional hockey player, and Fenov, a teenager from New Jersey, eventually recognized each other as family. If that didn't have the entire gymnasium batting away tears, then the poem Lee read - which Fenov had written to him at the IIHF World Championships in May of this year - did.
"'How could I make a lasting impression upon the earth,'" Lee said as he recited Fenov's words aloud. "'I wanted to make people proud and inspire with words and inspire with actions and with who I am. Who would have thought it started with a speech at a Kancer Jam.'"
The words were as powerful as they were fitting. It was, after all, one of Fenov's speeches at a Kancer Jam that inspired Lee.
Video: Anders Kancer Jam 2018
Fenov passed away on July 18, losing his battle with stage 4 Neuroblastoma cancer. At age 17, his life was not nearly long enough, but Lee wanted to make sure that his friend's memory endured. Lee also wanted to make sure he continued to do his part raising money and awareness with his annual cancer fundraiser, which reportedly raised over $117K.
"His friendship is something I'll never forget and I'll cherish every day that we had," Lee said. "Now we get to honor him as we continue to do this foundation event and do our best to not only help kids with cancer, but their families [too] and try to find a cure for this disease."
The event raised over $100k for the third straight year. While it looked similar to the previous two events, with Islanders pairing up with fans to toss frisbees back and forth, it felt different without Fenov. As tough as it was, Lee felt that it was important as ever to carry on his friend's mission. To that end, Fenov was memorialized at the event, including renaming the trophy to the Fenov Cup. A custom Kancer Jam banner was created that showcased Fenov and his larger than life smile, along with the now well-known quote from him: "Even the smallest amount of help and sympathy you can provide to a child with cancer will mean the absolute world."
Fenov's sister, Sciaska Ulysses, noted that her brother always wanted the spotlight to be on all kids with cancer, not just himself, but she was appreciative of all the support and said Fenov would have been as well.
"To have all these people show up and everyone tear up for Fenov, just to see that people still care about him it means a lot," Ulysses said. "Not everyone knew Fenov, but just to see that they were able to be empathetic and sympathetic to what Anders was saying it just shows that you don't have to know someone who has cancer personally to know what the family was going through and the hardship."
"It means a lot to know that we're not alone, we're not by ourselves and there are other people outside of our family who care about us," she added.
Video: Anders Lee Kancer Jam - The Origin
Lee was inspired by Fenov and in turn has inspired others, like NHLers Zach Bogosian and Kevin Shattenkirk, who have started their own Kancer Jams. J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh are hosting their own Kan Jam tournament in Tampa Bay in February.
"Just watching Anders talk about Fenov gave me goosebumps," Mathew Barzal said. "It's a great cause, I'm happy to be here and it's great for our whole team. Anders is just such a great person and I know this means a lot to him, so I'm happy I could be here tonight."
Lee also announced the creation of a scholarship in Fenov's honor on Sunday. Lee said it felt appropriate given how Fenov excelled in his schoolwork, despite repeatedly having to miss class for treatments. He wants community work to be a focus of his scholarship.
"The scholarship is going to be aimed at kids who not only work hard in the classroom, but also do stuff in the community for kids with cancer," Lee said.
Fenov wanted to make a lasting impact and he certainly made one on Lee. Now Lee, the Islanders and the community will keep throwing frisbees to make sure Fenov's impact only deepens.
"What he had gone through, the battle that he had, the courage he had, it's the least that we could do," Lee said. "He's what's behind all of this and he's with us here today watching over us... it's a special thing really."