To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Hockey Fights Cancer, the NHL will be sharing stories of those in the hockey world impacted by the disease on the 25th of each month all season long. Today, the story of NHL group vice president, Events, Chie Chie Yard.

NEW YORK -- It would have been so easy to cancel the appointment, to make a call and put it off, to delay amid the terror and uncertainty that came with the world shutting down that March of 2020, especially in the epicenter that was New York City. Chie Chie Yard had, to be honest, completely forgotten about her regularly scheduled mammogram that year, set up for the end of March.

Then she got the reminder call.

Her work at the NHL, where she is a group vice president in the Events department, was on pause. Her husband, Drew, was available to take care of their two young boys, Jameson and Braden, then 8 and 7 years old.

Nothing, really, was stopping her.

So, she figured, what else did she have to do?

“It’s a good thing I did,” she said.

With few people willing to take the subway at that point, Yard had a single choice. She set out to walk from her downtown apartment to the Upper East Side of Manhattan where her doctor’s office was located, still somehow open despite the precariousness and unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And, as she put it, “That’s when things got flagged.”

From there, she went -- alone -- to get a needle biopsy, to get more information about what was happening inside her body.

“Panic,” Yard said. “[It’s] scary. There are all sorts of emotions. It was kind of a crazy time.”

There was a wait, a couple days of wondering, of hanging on the edge, of anticipating the ringing of the phone.

Then, an answer.

“‘You’re gonna be OK,’ is how she started,” Yard said of the doctor on the other end of the line. “’But you have stage 0 DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ).’ I was like, ‘What does all this mean?’ I think my husband saw me getting emotional on the phone -- I’m getting emotional now -- so we found out it was stage 0 cancer, which is super early. Thank goodness.”

She hadn’t canceled the appointment. They had caught the cancer.

Hockey Fights Cancer: Chie Chie Yard

Two months later, Yard would have 13 hours of surgeries. Two months after that, she would rejoin her NHL colleagues in Edmonton in the bubble, where she spent 34 days regaining her life while helping ensure the success of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while also paying her newfound knowledge forward.

Four years later, she remains cancer-free.

“A lot of times you hear stories of people that put off their mammograms for six months, right?” said Suzanne Kaplan, a colleague at the NHL. “And that might be six months too late.”


But at the time, in the immediate aftermath of hearing the word “cancer,” even of the stage 0 variety, Yard was a little lost.

The recommendation by the breast surgeon -- a lumpectomy -- didn’t feel exactly right to her. It was a relatively simple outpatient surgery. And yet, Yard felt unsure. She turned to Kaplan, a vice president of business development at the NHL, whose husband had been through cancer, and who had been kept up to date on the situation.

“I said, ‘I know what I would do.’ I said I would call my mom,” Kaplan said. “I think she’ll be able to help you. We’ve had cancer in our family. I think you really need a mom’s touch right now.”

Her mother had worked in a breast surgeon’s office. Her message to Yard was to go beyond the lumpectomy, to have a double mastectomy -- a complete removal of both breasts to reduce the risk of future cancer -- to leave no doubt.

“Yes, it’s stage 0,” Yard recalled Kaplan saying. “But too many times women will do a lumpectomy and then 10 years later, recurrence, and they’re getting a mastectomy anyway. You’re better off doing it when you’re young and you can recover quicker, and you have more peace of mind. It resonated.”

The decision was made.

“I chose to take ’em off,” she said.

Two months later, at the end of June, Yard had two surgeons working on her simultaneously at NYU Langone Health, performing a 13-hour procedure that included the double mastectomy and a DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery, where a person’s own fat and tissue are used to rebuild the breasts instead of silicone implants.

Not long after, Yard got the results.

The margins were clear. No cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. She didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.

The feeling?

“Just relief,” she said.


In the beginning, Yard didn’t set out to build a life in hockey. She didn’t intend on playing the sport at Brown University -- a school whose name and reputation hadn’t quite made it to her childhood in Houston -- or at the Olympics for Japan. She didn’t go after a job in the NHL.

It all just kind of happened.


Chie Chie Yard, bottom left, and some of her teammates at Brown University.

But 25 years into her career with the NHL, Yard can imagine her life no other way. And the NHL feels the same about Yard.

“That’s a tough one to put into words,” said Dean Matsuzaki, executive vice president for NHL events, who first met Yard at the 1999 NHL All-Star Game. “It’s immeasurable. Her passion for the sport, for the game of hockey, is amazing. She thinks of others. … She understands all the intricacies, all the different pieces that go into the event. So when approaching the event, she can definitely think 360 around the event.

“You can get people that are experts in different things, but having the institutional knowledge and the relationships that she has across the League, her relationships are second to none within our department.”

It all started when she was 4, running around the rink when her older brother was skating, calling herself a “rink kid.” She played on boys teams, on the weekends, watched in awe as the “Miracle on Ice” took place in 1980, contemplated the joy that would come with playing in an Olympics, an option that wasn’t yet open to women.

By 10, she had fallen in love.

From there, it was Brown and then, in 1992, it was announced that women’s hockey would be part of the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Olympic federation in Japan reached out to Yard’s father and asked if she was still playing hockey. She was. And after she satisfied the four-year residency requirement in Japan, she played for the host nation as women’s hockey made its debut.

After that, she said, “I had no idea what I was going to do.”

She landed at the NHL. She has never left.

“I feel fortunate every day,” she said.


Before coming to the NHL, Chie Chie Yard represented Japan at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

It was on their second date that it was made clear to Drew just how important hockey was to his future wife. The Pittsburgh Penguins fan didn’t know that the woman he was seeing worked for the NHL, but he knew that the Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and headed to double overtime when he, hesitantly, asked if they could head to a bar to watch the end of the game.

“That was my intro,” he said.

Yard’s job is one of late nights, of traveling on holidays, of coming back home wiped out, just in time to head back out on the road for the next event, with the NHL calendar getting busier every year.

But it’s one she loves.

“It’s everything to her,” Drew said. “Obviously it’s her work. She played. She played in college. She played growing up. She wanted to do everything her brother did. He played hockey growing up. So it’s kind of like a family affair to her. Obviously now she’s got the kids. She loves teaching the kids. She helps out with the teams when she can and tries to teach the other kids to play.

“So yeah, we’re all hockey all the time in this family.”

It’s a feeling that’s reflected back at her.

“She’s a connector,” Kaplan said. “Everyone I meet in the hockey world, the first thing they say to me is, ‘Oh, you must know Chie.’ She is just outgoing and warm and sweet and always there when you need someone, and that is personally and professionally.”

It was why everyone, including Matsuzaki, whose mother died from breast cancer, was so stunned and so worried when she first reached out about her diagnosis, not long after she herself learned of it. She kept them regularly updated via a private Facebook page maintained by Drew.

“The support from everyone was overwhelming,” Yard said. “They were amazing. There’s nothing else to say. An outpouring of love.”

She teared up, wiping her eyes with the heels of her hands. Then, in typical Yard fashion, transformed the tears into gales of laughter. It’s the support that gets her. The support, the love, that makes her break down.

“The cancer part is not as emotional as the support I got,” she said.


Chie Chie Yard with Suzanne Kaplan and former NHL defenseman Zdeno Chara and at the 2024 NHL All-Star in Toronto this past February.


Which was why Yard was getting antsy.

As Yard got through the diagnosis, the surgery, the recovery, as the NHL went back to work and she did not, she started to feel the pull. The rest of the events staff was in the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, working around the clock on the most exceptional playoffs in NHL history, and she was back in New York.

She felt ready. The doctors gave their OK.

She wanted in.

“My first thought, I said to her, ‘You’re crazy’,” Kaplan said. “You’ve just gone through all this surgery, you need to rest. And in typical Chie Chie spirit she said, ‘Nope, that’s it. I’m cancer-free. I’m done.’ And that’s where she was most comfortable was going right back into work mode.”

She texted Matsuzaki and let him know she was cleared to return to work. That she wanted to return to work.

“If you need any help, I’d really like to join the bubble. Maybe a little FOMO, maybe a little, I need to get my life back on track,” Yard said.

Matsuzaki was stunned … and not stunned.

“A little bit of both,” he said. “Being Chie Chie, I wasn’t surprised but with where she was in her recovery and everything, I was like, ‘Wow.’ She’s such a valuable member of our team, so being able to have her come in and help was huge.”

Her kids were on board. Drew was on board.

They understood that she wanted to feel normal again and that being with the NHL was her normal, though Drew was initially concerned she might be jumping in too early.

“But I’m not going to stop her from that,” he said. “She’s tough. … If she was good, I had no concern with her doing it. I wanted her to be comfortable and that’s all that mattered.”


Chie Chie Yard (second from l.) went into the Edmonton bubble during the 2020 playoffs two months after having cancer surgery. Here she is with (from l.) Dean Matsuzaki, executive vice president, NHL events, Kris King, executive vice president, hockey operations, and Derek King, senior director, hockey operations.

She headed off to Canada, to her two weeks of quarantine, and then into the bubble.

“The thing that made her even more extraordinary than she normally is was she insisted on going into the bubble during COVID at a time where she could have easily stayed home and when I urged her to stay home,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “So it just shows she doesn’t listen to me all the time.”

It was there that a colleague approached her. She gave her a hug, a message of support, of joy that Yard was OK.

The colleague had had found a lump, and after they all left the bubble, reached out to Yard following a diagnosis.

Yard was more than happy to supply her with names of her breast surgeon, her plastic surgeon, with words of advice. The woman switched doctors, using those Yard had used.

“We try to view this organization as a family,” Bettman said. “We’re here for each other. We support each other. We focus on what we all need. And Chie Chie is emblematic of that both in terms of her giving of herself to be really one of the essential bonds of this organization and in her time of need, I hope she felt that we were all here for her.”

It was just one more example in Yard’s life of how tiny the hockey community is, the connection that sent her in the direction of Brown, the one that got her to Japan for the Olympics, the advice that led to her own treatment, the advising of others in turn.

“The hockey world is small and the hockey world is tightknit,” Yard said. “And, for me, the hockey world is family.”

And it was never more clear than when she received a text message from the Toronto bubble. The NHL had been putting the hashtag #WeSkateFor on the dasher boards, as part of the Black Lives Matter tributes, for equality. But there was a group of NHL employees in Toronto holding up a sign with that same hashtag:

# WeSkateForChieChie.

She still tears up when she thinks about getting that text: What they all mean to her. What they all did for her.

The feeling is mutual.

“Chie Chie is Exhibit A of how you deal with adversity with grace and elegance and come through the other side,” Commissioner Bettman said. “She’s an inspiration for all of us.”

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