NHL, NHLPA, V Foundation talk Hockey Fights Cancer program

The NHL and NHL Players' Association, together with the V Foundation for Cancer Research, have announced a funding of $2.9 million that will go directly to life-saving cancer research.

The announcement was made Saturday by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida, before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers.

The Commissioner was joined by Shane Jacobson, CEO of the V Foundation, and NHL Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh.

“It's been a wonderful collaboration," Bettman said, "assisted in large part, powered by AstraZeneca was the lead partner." 

More than $4 million was raised this season after the League partnered with the V Foundation during the 25th anniversary of Hockey Fights Cancer. All 32 teams hosted in-game awareness nights that generated at least $1.2 million for local cancer-related charities around North America, bringing the collective total to more than $36 million since HFC's inception in 1998.

"The NHL/NHLPA agreement with the V Foundation was one of the first partnerships that I reached as executive director of the NHLPA and certainly it was an important one for me as a cancer survivor," said Walsh, who was named the executive director on Feb. 16, 2023. "My staff and the players across the league know how important this program is. We've done great things this past year, and we want to do more even with the future." 

The V Foundation was a game-changer, with Hockey Fights Cancer securing nearly $700,000 in team and alumni fundraising efforts, highlighted by collaborations with, among others, the St. Louis Blues, Blues Alumni and the Tampa Bay Lightning. AstraZeneca was named HFC's first official corporate partner and started with $5,000 donations each time a player scored at least three goals through the NHL Hat Trick Challenge.

The endeavor achieved its season-long goal of $500,000.

"We're incredibly proud of this partnership," Jacobson said. "We're impressed by the team effort that went into raise more than $4 million dollars to help cancer patients everywhere. Gary, your leadership, Marty your leadership is incredible. The team's with you.”

The joint initiative with the V Foundation kicked off 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto with an $800,000 translational research grant toward Dr. Gelareh Zadeh's brain cancer research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

NHL, NHLPA, V Foundation announce first grant recipient

Special to the 25th anniversary season was a $250,000 grant from the NHL and NHLPA to 11 unique organizations with ties to players and alumni aimed to strengthen lifesaving programs, including the Ben Stelter Foundation. Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and forward Zach Hyman presented $25,000 on behalf of the NHL and NHLPA on May 30 to support the foundation's goals of bringing proton therapy to Canada.

Stelter was an inspiration for McDavid, the Oilers and the entire hockey community while he battled glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. His postgame victory phrase of "Play 'La Bamba,' baby," became a rallying cry for Oilers fans. The foundation was formed four months after Stelter died Aug. 9, 2022, at the age of 6, with a focus on providing magical experiences for kids with cancer, providing needed medical equipment at home and supporting medical research.

Ben's father, Mike, was diagnosed with sarcoma in March 2023 and needed proton therapy to combat the cells in his body. He had to travel to the Roberts Proton Therapy Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia -- more than 2,000 miles away -- for eight weeks.

"We were so fortunate with the support of the community we were able to make it work to go down for treatment," Mike said. "There are so many families where that's the only option for them to go for treatment, out of the country in the United States and they're unable to go, and that's incredibly unfair.

"After that, we are even more driven to bring proton therapy to Canada, knowing that families [having] to go through this is incredibly unfair, and the amount of families that we've met since then where they said they had to travel to the United States for proton therapy or they know somebody that's had to, is unbelievable. There is such a huge need for this treatment in Canada right now."

NHL.com staff writers Derek Van Diest and Jon Lane contributed to this report