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Hockey Fights Cancer

Hockey Fights Cancer hits home for Blackhawks

Chicago doing its part to help raise awareness

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- There was a different hue at United Center on Monday.

Along with the Chicago Blackhawks' traditional red and black, accents of lavender were everywhere for a game against the Calgary Flames. 

The lettering on the boards was lavender. The Blackhawks' jerseys in warm-ups were lavender. The ties worn by the coaching staff, front office and broadcasters were lavender. Rolls of lavender athletic tape were stacked inside the locker room and lavender Blackhawks apparel was sold in the gift shop.

The reason for it was the start of the NHL's annual Hockey Fights Cancer campaign, which has been in existence since 1998 and commemorated with special game nights since 2008. It's a cause that holds special meaning to the Blackhawks.

"It's one of those things that has touched everybody," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "I think everybody has somebody who's been affected by [cancer]. Either they've gone through it themselves or they have a close friend or relative. When you see [the lavender], it's a symbolic thing. The colors in the building are about trying to rally everyone's support to do something that impacts everybody."

Cancer impacted Bowman 10 years ago, when he couldn't shake what he felt was a winter cold. Bowman, who was 33 at the time, woke up one morning with a large lump on his neck. He was soon diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma.

"I remember it like it was yesterday, but it also seems like it was 40 years ago," Bowman said Monday. "It seems like that was a whole different lifetime for me, but I can also remember it like it was yesterday. The hardest part about cancer, if you talk to people that have been through it, is the beginning stages. You know you're sick, but you don't know how bad it is and you don't know what you're going to do. Your mind starts racing."

Bowman couldn't stop thinking about his sons, who were ages 2 and 5.

"I have three kids now, but at the time I had two little boys and you start wondering, 'Am I going to make it through? Am I going to be able to be around for them when they're older?'" said Bowman, who fought off the disease twice; it returned a year after going into remission. "You start thinking the worst and then you've just got to stop that and start your treatments. You get a new routine and you get through it, and you try to stay in the moment, but it's something you'll never forget really."

Scott Darling knows the feeling.

Chicago's backup goalie watched his mother, Cindy Darling, overcome breast cancer twice. The first time was in 2001 and it returned in 2011. She's the reason Darling has a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon tattooed on his arm and two of them painted on his goalie mask.

"I think about it every day," said Darling, whose mother attends almost every Blackhawks home game. "It's something that we're very fortunate she's doing great now. That's why stuff like this is great. It's a great cause."

It's not just about the lavender accents; the Blackhawks' special night raises funds for cancer awareness efforts and research.

The jerseys and lavender ties will be autographed and auctioned. There will be autographed, commemorative pucks sold too, along with a silent auction.

Bowman, who also wore a lavender tie, said funding is something that's vital to the overall effort to fight cancer.

"I was talking to someone the other day who went through the same thing as me, and even from the years I had it, there's been improvements and new treatments," he said. "That's what the money and the awareness is about, just trying to find different treatments that raise the outcomes."

The Blackhawks also worked with Make-A-Wish Illinois to have five children battling various types of cancer on the ice during a pregame ceremony: Payton Braun, 5; Ethan Hugins, 6; Dareon Broadnax, 13; Jesse Hajek, 8; and 9-year old Brandon Otte.

Each was invited to stand with the Blackhawks for the Canadian and United States anthems. Otte, who had surgery to remove a brain tumor, was selected to drop the ceremonial first puck.

"It's great we honor and [we] think of all the people who have been stricken with cancer," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who sometimes wears an orange tie on the bench to support the Ross K. MacNeill Foundation, which honors an 11-year old boy from the Chicago area who died from pediatric brain cancer. "There's a lot of people in our lives. It's just around us. But if we can do anything we can to bring awareness and get all the help we can in that regard, it's very important and hockey does a great job of bringing it out."

Video: CGY@CHI: Brandon Otte drops the ceremonial puck

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