When Thomas Pedicini was afflicted with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003, his family's lives changed forever. When the 21-year-old became cancer-free a year later, Thomas and his brother Anthony decided they wanted to help fight the disease any way they could.
Coinciding with the Pedicinis' hometown Tampa Bay Lightning's second straight trip to the Eastern Conference Final, the brothers are again raising money for cancer via the NHL's Beard-A-Thon initiative.
The initiative pushes fans of Stanley Cup Playoff teams to grow beards and raise money for noteworthy causes each spring. The Pedicinis are raising money for the Tampa-based National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and on his Beard-A-Thon page, Anthony said he is doing so "in honor of my brother and his victory against cancer."
So far, Anthony has raised more than $24,000 in less than a month, the most of any individual in the initiative's history.
"There are a lot of people afflicted with cancer," Anthony told NHL.com. "We're asking for money because no one likes to see kids go through any trial."
Anthony collects money through the Beard-A-Thon website, but also has received cash from fans around Tampa and at games. At the suggestion of a local restaurant owner, Anthony was challenged to dye his beard blue when he hit the $20,000 mark, and he did so when that plateau was reached last week.
"I have a lot of respect for women who highlight their hair, because it burned really bad," he said.
The Pedicinis grew up Islanders fans in Bethpage, N.Y., during their run of four straight Stanley Cup titles in the early 1980s. The family moved to Florida in 1991, and after relocating to Tampa in the early 2000s, they became fans of the Lightning.
But when Thomas was stricken by cancer in 2003, Anthony saw the agony his brother was going through during chemotherapy, and the heartache his family endured.
"The chemo was really taking effect, and I saw [Thomas] at his worst," Anthony said. "We grew up in a big Italian family where they did a really good job where we didn't think anything was wrong in life. I remember looking at my dad one night and seeing fear in his eyes that he was facing losing a child. I was devastated."
Thomas' cancer went into remission and he was declared cancer-free in 2004, coinciding with the Lightning's run to the Stanley Cup. Though his cancer has not returned, Thomas still battled radiation-related illness, and he underwent a triple-bypass surgery in 2013 as a result of arterial scarring.
During the Lightning's run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2011, Anthony first learned about Beard-A-Thon and started raising money. He accumulated more than $10,000.
"I was like, 'I don't have to shave, good deal,'" Anthony said. "We're so blessed to have great family and friends."
Last year, Thomas took over the Beard-A-Thon fundraising, but with two young children and another on the way, he could not commit to it again this year. Anthony took up the efforts again, setting a goal of $23,001, and began growing a beard. He got his first online donation April 27, the day of Game 1 of the Lightning's Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Islanders.
The Lightning took notice and has helped in the fundraising efforts at games, even putting the family on the Jumbotron during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I left the other night with $500 in my pocket," Anthony said. "I'm easy to find because I'm the only one with a blue beard."
Anthony has been a Lightning season-ticket holder for years and has gotten to know the fans around him in Section 103 in Amalie Arena's lower bowl. Adding a good cause to watching the Lightning has given the group one more thing to rally around this season.
"They all gave money and are all into this thing," he said. "It unites us as fans and is another neat way to watch hockey."