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Hockey Fights Cancer

Capitals' Hockey Fights Cancer skate creates enduring memories

Youngsters get to meet players, ride ice resurfacer, get autographs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Dariush Namin had to cut short his wish by one day, but thanks to Make-A-Wish's Mid-Atlantic chapter and the Washington Capitals, it still was a memorable week for the 11-year-old from Bethesda, Maryland.

Namin, diagnosed with leukemia in January 2016, planned to finish his Make-A-Wish experience by participating in the Capitals' Hockey Fights Cancer skate Friday. He needed to rest, however, after getting home late following the Capitals' 4-3 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday.

He enjoyed a fun-filled two days that included watching practice from the bench and meeting his favorite player, center Nicklas Backstrom, on Wednesday, and dropping the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff between Backstrom and Islanders captain John Tavares on Thursday. 

He also got to ride around the Capital One Arena ice on an Olympia ice resurfacer during the first intermission, and made a television appearance from NBC Sports Washington's broadcast booth with announcers Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin during the second intermission.

Tweet from @CapitalsPR: WATCH: 11-year-old Bethesda, Md., native and local wish kid Dariush Namin drops the puck at #CapsFightCancer night next to his favorite player, @backstrom19: https://t.co/PWakOQPQwP pic.twitter.com/90aytRrStv

When asked Wednesday what he'll remember most, Namin said, "I'll remember meeting Nicklas Backstrom and getting all the [autographs]."

Namin is in the maintenance phase of his treatments, which takes two years of a three-year protocol. He's doing well enough to attend school daily, fitting in two or three visits each month to Children's National Medical Center in Washington for chemotherapy and bloodwork. He also takes oral chemotherapy daily.

Side effects of his treatments include a weakening of his bones and immune system, which leaves him more susceptible to germs and makes getting rest essential. But for a couple of days at least, he could push all of that into the back of his mind.

That's what Make-A-Wish is all about. The Capitals were happy to help as part of Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Month.

Video: Dariush, Dara talk Caps on Hockey Fights Cancer Night

"Everybody who is in hockey has someone or knows someone who has been affected by the wicked disease known as cancer and it's a real humbling reminder and has more of an impact when you see young kids being affected by cancer at such an early age," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "There's so much great medicine there, but it's one of those diseases that it goes away but it tends to rear its ugly head at certain times and different times. So you just hope we continue to fight that disease and get a cure for it."

Namin was part of a group of children from Make-A-Wish to attend the Capitals' Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night game Thursday. Many of them also were at the Hockey Fights Cancer skate Friday, including Nitin Ramachandran, a 16-year-old from Oak Hill, Virginia, whose brain cancer has been in remission for two years.

Last year, Ramachandran was paired with former Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, now with the Montreal Canadiens, for the skate and Alzner gave him a tour of the locker room. 

"It's amazing that they keep on doing it every year," Ramachandran said. "Hockey Fights Cancer promotes fighting cancer across the whole NHL and all the NHL fans and just having that support group behind this cause is amazing."

Hockey Fights Cancer has raised more than $18 million since it was founded in 1998. The Capitals' fundraising efforts this season include an auction of Hockey Fights Cancer items they used Thursday.  

Players wore lavender jerseys and used sticks with lavender tape during warmups. Additionally, goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer wore Hockey Fights Cancer-themed lavender masks. 

The warmup jerseys, masks and sticks were signed by the players and are being auctioned to benefit five local charities: Flashes of Hope, Hope for Henry, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Items can be bid on through the Hanbid app or by visiting Hanbid.com.

"I think the League does a great job with [Hockey Fights Cancer] and we're just trying to pitch in as much as we can," Holtby said. "The masks seem to do well [in auctions] and it's no problem for us to wear it and raise a little money."

Tweet from @Capitals: #CapsFightCancer skate after Caps practice! @WishMidAtlantic pic.twitter.com/Sth01qGfcL

Holtby and Grubauer also participated in the October Saves Goalie Challenge in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The October Saves Goalie Challenge, which was founded in 2014 by the Xtreme Hockey Club in Ashburn, Virginia, and became a nationwide campaign this year, encourages goaltenders throughout the United States to pledge money for each save they make during October. Proceeds benefit pediatric and women's cancer research organizations, along with the October Saves Scholarship Fund.

Holtby and Grubauer got involved in the goalie challenge through Capitals director of goaltending Mitch Korn, and have participated each of the past three seasons. Those who made donations were entered in a drawing to win a jersey signed by each goaltender. Participants who raised more than $650 were entered in a drawing to win a scholarship to Korn's annual goaltending camp. 

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