WASHINGTON -- Prior to the Washington Capitals' Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night game against the Florida Panthers on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, FS-F, NHL.TV), Capitals alumnus John Druce will join 17-year-old Make-A-Wish kid Peter Jauschnegg in dropping the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff.
Jauschnegg, a Severn, Maryland native, is in remission after battling two types of cancer -- Ewing's Sarcoma and leukemia. Druce knows too well what Jauschnegg has been through.
Druce's daughter, Courtney, was first diagnosed with leukemia 12 years ago when she was 15. She overcame the disease three times before being diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer in 2013 and courageously battled through that as well.
But the cancer returned again last year and proved to be a foe even Courtney's indomitable spirit could not conquer. She died on April 27, eight days shy of her 28th birthday, leaving Druce heartbroken but still inspired by her and committed to fighting the disease.
"She would be so excited and so happy to know that this is going on," Druce said of the Capitals' Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night. "I'm just honored to be a part of it and that her memory is being recognized. That's important. That's important to me and it would be important to her, too."
Most remembered for scoring 14 goals in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games during the Capitals' run to the 1990 Wales Conference Final, Druce, 50, played the first four seasons of his 10-season NHL career in Washington. After stints with the Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers, he finished his playing career in Germany in 1999-2000 before becoming a junior hockey analyst on Sportsnet telecasts.
When Courtney was diagnosed with leukemia, Druce left the television business and worked as a financial adviser so he could spend more time with her. He immediately became active in his native Peterborough, Ontario with Pedal for Hope, an annual charity cycling ride by local police that raises money for the fight against pediatric cancer.
"That's something from Day 1 that I was a part of, but Courtney came on afterwards," Druce said. "She used to emcee the final ride when we'd come in the last kilometer. All of the kids in the area that were diagnosed with cancer, Canadian Tire would donate bicycles for them and if they were capable of it they would ride in the last kilometer with us."
Through each diagnosis, bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, losing her hair multiple times and twice surviving heart failure, Courtney simply wanted, "to live her life and be normal."
"When she was healthy, when she was in remission, the times she did get through all those treatments, she continued to pursue her dreams like of going to school," Druce said. "She traveled to Costa Rica and learned to surf. She wanted to teach yoga. She continued to do these things and continued to have a life amazingly. I tell everybody playing hockey was hard and it was a war at times. It was a battle. You have your ups and downs and it's a roller coaster, but I look at what Courtney's gone through and she's my hero.
"She's somebody I look up to and have looked up to from watching her go through this."
Courtney inspired others as well. After being diagnosed with cervical cancer, she began writing about her experiences on her blog "Sassy Blonde -- Cancer be Gone."
"I just want to feel healthy, normal and boring," she wrote. "I don't want to have to end up in the ER continually from excruciating pain, and then be put on pain meds, over and over again. I don't want to not be able to apply for jobs that I would be fantastic for because I cannot foresee my future and know whether or not I will have the energy to adequately get the job done. Basically, I don't want to let anyone down."
Druce doesn't believe Courtney ever did that. In fact, with her blog, she did the opposite.
"I think she just had all these feelings and thoughts inside her that she wanted to get out and it was raw what she did," Druce said. "She wanted people to know what she was going through and to help people. She'd get messages from people all over the world just saying, 'You've been an inspiration and you've helped me get through a tough time that I'm having.' Even people that were just having a hard time with life, if you read something like that, you look at yourself and see life's not so bad.
"And I think that alone was what her goal was. As she said, 'If I can help one person deal with whatever they're going through, then that to me is enough.'"
Druce appreciates all the Capitals have done to honor Courtney's memory. After he played in an alumni game at the Capitals' FanFest on June 29, the signed game-worn jerseys were auctioned off with the proceeds going to Pedal for Hope and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's National Capital Area chapter.
"I didn't know they were doing any of that," Druce said. "I just thought we were playing an alumni game, so for them to do that was amazing. It's been really special. I just got a message from (former Capital) Greg Adams in [British Columbia] sending his support. Things like that mean so much."
Following the game Saturday, Druce will return to Cobourg, Ontario, where he coaches the Cobourg Cougars, a Junior A team in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Druce began working for the Cougars as a part-time assistant last season after their coach took another job, but left to live with Courtney in Philadelphia during the final months of her battle.
After Courtney's death, Druce went home to Peterborough and learned the Cougars were still looking for a new coach. He expressed interest and was hired a week later.
"It was kind of the right time, right place," Druce said. "When I retired, it was one of two things I thought I could do well -- coach or broadcast. So when this happened I kind of took it as a sign from Courtney. When she was first diagnosed I had to stop broadcasting. So it was my thought that this was her way of saying, 'Here Dad. You go do this now.'"
Click here for more on Hockey Fights Cancer