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Hockey Fights Cancer

Pyett glad to have role in Hockey Fights Cancer month

AHL defenseman who overcame synovial sarcoma, will help raise money, awareness

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Logan Pyett understands the important role he'll play at the Hershey Bears' first Hockey Fights Cancer Night when they host the Hartford Wolfpack at Giant Center on Sunday (5 p.m. ET; AHL.TV).

The 30-year-old defenseman wasn't sure if he'd play hockey again after he was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects soft tissue, in his left leg three years ago. Returning to the American Hockey League this season with Hershey after a long road back that included playing in Japan last season has provided Pyett with perspective and an appreciation for the good he can do.

"It's great that I'm part of a team and in a league where I have some exposure and I can help raise some funds for people who need it and for cancer research," Pyett said. "The whole thing is special and it's fantastic that the league here and the NHL has nights and months like these to help out."

This month, the NHL and NHL Players' Association are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hockey Fights Cancer. This is the first season AHL teams are joining the fight by holding Hockey Fights Cancer nights. 

Hershey players will wear lavender Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys during the game that will be auctioned off to benefit the American Cancer Society and the Four Diamonds Fund, which assists childhood cancer patients and supports childhood cancer research at Penn State Children's Hospital. Throughout the game, they will share stories of players and staff who have been impacted by cancer.

Pyett, who has one assist in five games with Hershey this season, hopes his story can provide inspiration for others battling the disease.

"I was very fortunate," he said. "There's are a lot of people who aren't as fortunate, but I think it's important to stay positive. … If people can look at me and my story coming back from that to play hockey at a high level again, I hope that it gives them hope they can do the same."

A Detroit Red Wings seventh-round pick (No. 212) in the 2006 NHL Draft, Pyett played five AHL seasons - four with Grand Rapids and one with Connecticut - before heading to the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League in 2013 and playing two seasons there with Podolsk, Vladivostok and Cherepovets. 

The native of Regina, Saskatchewan, was eager to return to the AHL when he signed with Lehigh Valley in 2015. That plan was derailed on Oct. 1, 2015 when tests revealed that a lump in his left thigh was a tumor that wrapped itself around an artery and formed a blood clot.

Doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia were confident he would make a full recovery, so Pyett doesn't remember ever fearing for his life. 

"The doctors and everybody I talked to were super positive," he said. "So, it really didn't cross my mind."

Pyett said he'll be forever grateful to the Philadelphia Flyers, Lehigh Valley's NHL parent team, who made sure he received the best treatment. 

His mother still exchanges occasional texts with Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, who checked in often during his recovery.

"Here's a kid that's struggling with this diagnosis, and he persevered and pushed his way through it," Hextall said. "Quite honestly, I didn't think he'd ever play hockey again. I'm a little stunned. But it's a testament to the character of the kid that he's back playing hockey at a high level."

Pyett went through six cycles of chemotherapy over 18 weeks and five weeks of radiation before having surgery in May 2016. Prior to that complex procedure, which involved one surgeon removing the tumor and another repairing the blood vessels that were cut during the tumor removal, was one of the few times Pyett considered that his playing days might be over.

"My biggest fear was you wake up from surgery and there was a complication, something went wrong, and I'm missing my lower leg or something," he said. "It's a morbid thought and I was assured the chances of that were very slim, so I didn't worry about it a whole lot, but it definitely crossed my mind."

The surgery was a success and Pyett began training with the intention of playing in 2016-17. He had a setback when another artery in his leg became blocked during the healing process, which required another surgery in December 2016.

When Pyett resumed training in February 2017, he had to essentially start from scratch. With limited options to play in North America last season, he joined his good friend Logan Stephenson (cousin of Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson) on Tohoku in the Asia League.

After getting his feet under him and getting 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 26 games with Tohoku, Pyett was ready to give the AHL another try. During his last AHL season with Connecticut in 2012-13, Pyett tied for eighth in the league among defensemen with 39 points (seven goals, 32 assists).

Hershey was looking for a puck-moving defenseman to provide experience and depth and signed him to a one-year contract on Aug. 17.

"You want to talk about adversity, well, that guy's been through it," Hershey vice president of hockey operations Bryan Helmer said. "To beat something like he did is pretty special. He doesn't take anything for granted anymore after going through that."

Pyett was a healthy scratch for Hershey's first four games before playing against Rockford on Oct. 14. It was his first AHL game in 2,003 days.

"Oddly enough, I knew the significance of playing a game after that amount of time off and I didn't have any nerves," he said. "I think that goes to being more professional in my preparation. After going through what I went through, it's a game. 

"It's my career, it's a business, I understand that. But we're still playing a game and I understood that playing one shift at a time and taking things one day at a time, if you work as hard as you can, things will take care of themselves." Deputy Managing Editor Adam Kimelman contributed to this report

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