TAMPA -- The red, white and blue Captain America star pin that Jon Cooper wears on the lapel of his suit jacket is eye-catching and makes you wonder if the 50-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning coach is expressing himself as a big fan of the Marvel Comics superhero.
He's not. A closer look at the pin begins to tell the heart-wrenching yet hopeful story behind it.
The blue 'C' inside the white star is for Carson Belec, the 6-year-old son of Lightning senior director of team services, Ryan Belec. Carson is battling Burkitt Lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that is considered the fastest growing human tumor and is rapidly fatal if left untreated, according to WebMd.com.
Carson's favorite character is Captain America, so the Lightning's equipment staff developed the logo and the pin to wear in his honor.
Every member of the Lightning staff wears one and the players all wear them on their suit jackets, sweatshirts and training outfits.
"[The trainers] made towels and did all this stuff so Carson could see when I'm on TV or one of the other coaches is on TV, our support for him and we're thinking of him," Cooper said, prior to the 2018 GEICO NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Amalie Arena on Saturday. "It's been great. All the players wear them on their suits now when they come into the rink. We've got towels. We've got everything. Our goal was hopefully it would uplift him when he was in the hospital because he's been there probably three months out of the last four. That was the goal and I hope it works."
Carson began his sixth and hopefully final round of chemotherapy on Friday. The prognosis, Cooper said, is promising, but he still has a long way to go.
"All I can say is everything has been working so far," Cooper said. "It's been a tough road for the family because chemotherapy has an effect with the hair loss and the weight loss and all that stuff. But once these six stages are over, the hope is he won't have to do that anymore and maybe after a couple-year period if he's cancer free, now the checkups are once every six months, once every year and then maybe it's gone for good. That's the hope. They're still in the process but that would be the hope."
Carson was diagnosed Nov. 9, when the Lightning were in Los Angeles. His teacher noticed he had a lump in his neck and suggested it be looked at by a doctor. It was a cancerous tumor.
Video: Cooper discusses meaning behind Captain America pin
Ryan Belec immediately left the team to fly home. The Lightning started wearing the pins on Nov. 16, when they defeated the Dallas Stars 6-1 at Amalie Arena.
Belec, who has been with the Lightning for 17 years, has not traveled since his son's diagnosis, but Cooper said he's hopeful he will join the team when they play at the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers after the all-star break.
"[Belec] does everything that nobody ever really pays attention to, but if it doesn't get done the whole thing collapses," Cooper said. "Everything from booking the flights, to the hotels, to who picks guys up, to where they go to the traveling, players being called up and down. He's been with us a long time and he's a big part of our team. He's adored by the players and staff here."