It's going to be a special Valentine's Day for the family of Niagara sophomore Scott Arnold.
Arnold was not only spared from the possible ravages of cancer and the premature end of his hockey career, but has come back as one of this season's NCAA's poster boys for perseverance and dedication to the game.
After a successful freshman season, Arnold spent mid-summer in two National Hockey League development camps with New Jersey and Calgary before the frightening diagnosis of testicular cancer came shortly after.
Commissioner's January Players of Month
University of Michigan fifth-year senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick is the Hockey Commissioners' Association National Division I Player of the Month for January. Hunwick appeared in five games for Michigan during the month of January, posting a 4-1 record with one shutout, a 1.09 goals-against average and a .971 save percentage. The 5-foot-7, 166-pound goaltender set a career-high with 46 saves, for his third shutout of the season, in Michigan's 4-0 win at Ohio State on Jan. 13 and stopped 31 shots to help the Wolverines to a 4-1 win over Ohio State in the outdoor Frozen Diamond Faceoff on Jan. 15 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. He allowed one goal or fewer in four of his five starts and registered 30-plus saves in four of them. He averaged 33.4 saves per start in the month, with 167 total saves in January for the
The Sterling Heights, Mich., native currently ranks second in the CCHA with a 2.07 goals-against average and is tied for ninth nationally in save percentage at .928. Undrafted, he is the brother of Colorado Avalanche
defenseman Matt Hunwick
, a freshman defenseman at the University of Denver, is the HCA National Rookie of the Month for January. A 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Burnaby, B.C., LaLeggia led Denver to a 5-1 record in the month of January by contributing 12 scoring points, recording a plus-4 rating, 11 hits and 11 blocked shots.
LaLeggia leads all NCAA Division I rookies with 28 points. He also ranks second among Division I defensemen with 10 goals.
-- Bob Snow
He underwent treatment to eradicate the cancer, including removal of one testicle, promising head coach Dave Burkholder that he would be in the lineup a little more than two months later when Niagara began its season against defending national runner-up Michigan.
Now, several months down the road, Arnold is simply thinking about the upcoming Feb. 14 holiday and how to thank his parents for their support.
"My brother and I are planning to have some flowers and chocolates delivered to the house," he said.
"I have lots of Valentine's Day and Mother's Day cards and things," said his mother Colleen from her Toronto home. "One, I remember he thanked me for driving him to all the practices and games."
The next sentiment will cover all holidays for many years to come in the Arnold family -- and hopefully to many families beyond.
"It's something my husband [Robi] and I seriously want to get the word out there about early diagnosis and treatment of testicular cancer," she said. "If one kid can be saved because of this, that will be amazing."
How far back is Arnold?
He is Niagara's leading goal scorer with 10 and second in scoring with 17 points, helping the Purple Eagles to a recent seven-game winning streak that propelled them to third place in Atlantic Hockey and two points out of first.
He will participate in the upcoming announcement of a partnership between Mount Saint Mary's Hospital and Niagara Athletics to create awareness of testicular cancer, including team-volunteering time at the hospital.
"The key to my early diagnosis," Arnold told NHL.com, "was as soon as I felt something different I went to have it checked out. Initially I had brushed it off as an injury, but soon realized that I should check it out. They key is not to be embarrassed because doctors can deal with it quickly and easily if caught early enough. I went to the hospital on Monday night, had tests done on Tuesday (ultrasound, blood tests, CAT scan), went in for surgery Thursday morning, and in four weeks I was back on the ice and played in our season opener against Michigan."
"Obviously we were scared," Colleen said, "but we chose the best hospitals in Montreal. When he told us something was wrong, he and I did a little bit of research. He was not overly surprised, but still a shock.
"It was 'OK, we're going to fight this. This isn't a death sentence.' If they catch it early, it's curable. There's a path in life and some people take the straight road; Scott has zigged and zagged his way, and he always gets back on track. I said, 'Scott, this is just another one of those turns in the road and you'll get back on the main highway in no time.' For him there was never a question he was going to come out of this fine. We took his lead. He went into the surgery in great condition."
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"I was going to beat this and move on with the rest of my life and hockey career," Scott said. "Support from my family and my friends and teammates was also important and helped to keep my outlook positive through the surgery and recovery."
That family support is deeply rooted and serves notice about how hockey moms and dads help establish that.
"This was the most determined child you could possibly imagine," Colleen said. "When he started playing hockey, my husband and I said, 'Oh my, we need to find a different sport for him, we don't want him to live in his brother's shadow.' His older brother Michael played on some higher-level programs. Scott went a thousand miles an hour, but he didn't know how to stop. After trying other sports, he said: 'No, I want to play hockey.' So we gave in."
In time, Niagara University became a major beneficiary of that decision.
"We pushed school; always about the education," Colleen said. "How they did that was going to be up to them. The older brother played in the Canadian university level. It was Scott's dream to go to NCAA. We told him unless you get a scholarship, we can't afford it. It was his dream he pursued."
What other kinds of reality emerge from dreams like Arnold's coming true?
"When things seem tough I always think to myself that I've beat cancer," he said, "and that whatever may come my way next I'm ready to face it. It has also made me appreciate the little things in life that I may have taken for granted before. Staying on the ice for an extra 20 minutes to work on shooting or lifting weights in the gym during off days are things I'm consistently doing today. Also, on a wristband I wear in honor of Meghan Redenbach, a young girl who passed because of a rare form of cancer last year, is written "Family is the Key" -- and since this experience I've realized that family is the most important thing in your life no matter what happens because they are always there for you."
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Last Friday night was Niagara's annual "Pink The Rink" game. Funds raised are donated to a breast health and awareness charity as part of the College Hockey America's (CHA) "Skate For The Cure" initiative.
Last season, the Arnold family only got in a few of Scott's games before moving from Montreal to Toronto this past fall in a job transfer for Colleen, much closer to the Purple Eagles' campus in Niagara Falls, New York.
"We saw maybe 3-5 games last year; maybe 12-15 so far this season," she said. "Last season, it was a lot of anxiety not to make [on-ice] mistakes; this season, it's being grateful he's out there. The first month of this season, each game was quite emotional that he was there and not in a hospital -- or worse.
"My husband and I did all of the hockey-mom and dad stuff. We were a hockey family -- all the games and most of the practices. It is a huge relief to see this."
Next week there will be a few more ways in which Scott Arnold will again have a chance -- among his many chances in life -- to thank Robi and Colleen Arnold.