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Hats off to Hockey Fights Cancer

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers
Aaryan and Declan pose for a photo before completing the ceremonial puck drop. Photo by Andy Devlin.

It was Aaryan’s first Oilers hockey game.

Not only did he watch the Oilers face off against the Washington Capitals, but he had the honour of conducting the ceremonial puck drop to commemorate Hockey Fights Cancer at Rexall Place.

“He’s so excited,” said Aaryan’s mom, Tina Karim.

“He’s been jumping up and down all day asking, ‘How am I going to do it mummy? Am I going to be ok?’”

Hockey Fights Cancer, a charitable initiative founded in 1998 by the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), aims to raise money and awareness for national and local organizations involved in cancer care and research.

“It means so much,” said Aaryan’s dad, Naheed.

“I’ve only been to one Oilers game before but my son has never been to an Oilers game, so this is really exciting.”

The four-year-old, who was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2014, was all smiles in anticipation of the puck drop.

“It’s been a really long struggle for us since he got diagnosed last year, it’s been one year since he’s been diagnosed, and we’ve been in the hospital a lot of the time,” said Tina.

“Now life is finally starting to get back to normal, and thanks to the Kids with Cancer Society, we’ve been able to do so many fun things with Aaryan. Especially tonight, it’s such an amazing opportunity. We’re so, so excited!”

To help support the fundraising efforts, fans had the opportunity to purchase a limited edition Oilers toque on the concourse from the Oilers Ladies for $20.

“Last year we did a sale for mitts for Hockey Fights Cancer for the Kids with Cancer Society, this year toques, which is exciting because its new, and proceeds go to the [Kids with Cancer Society] BrainWorks program,” said Krista Ference.

Only 3500 toques were available for purchase.

Net proceeds are going to the Kids With Cancer Society’s ‘BrainWorks’ program and the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.

Aaryan shakes the hand of Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin after dropping the ceremonial puck. Photo by Andy Devlin.

“We’ve been a partner with the Kids with Cancer Society for over five years now,” said Natalie Minckler, Executive Director of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.

“Specifically, our support goes through a program called BrainWorks. No child should ever be diagnosed with cancer, but when they are the Kids with Cancer Society and the BrainWorks program provide specific support to children that are undergoing treatment and radiation.”

The Kids with Cancer Society’s mission is to identify and meet the needs of children with cancer and their families from the time of diagnosis throughout treatment and beyond, through support, clinical programs and research.

The BrainWorks program provides clinical and practical support for kids and families as they navigate cancer treatment or cope with cognitive late effects.

“We’re just here, as part of the society, to help raise awareness that kids get cancer too and that they can’t fight it alone,” said Erin Hamilton, Manager of Signature and Community Events at the Kids with Cancer Society.

“It’s so important to have the support of the community, like the Oilers and like the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, to help us help them fight.”

Aaryan wasn’t alone in his quest to drop the puck, as Declan — with brother Sam and sister Lexi in tow — a young sledge hockey player, was also asked to join in on the opportunity.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said.

“It means a lot because of how excited my son is and just that he’s able to do something like this, to have the opportunity is pretty amazing,” said Declan’s mom Lindsay Lord.

It’s been a long road for Declan.

Diagnosed in October 2009 with astrocytoma spinal chord tumours at just 10 months old, the six year old has been in remission since his second birthday with new obstacles to overcome.

“He had major spinal chord surgery to remove the tumours — a nine hour surgery — he came out a paraplegic and relearned to walk,” said Lindsay.

Declan shakes the hand of Edmonton Oilers Andrew Ference after dropping the ceremonial puck. Photo by Andy Devlin.

At 18 months old, Declan relapsed and doctors found tumours growing back.

“So he had the same surgery again and came out a paraplegic again, and there was a lot more damage done to his spinal chord this time.”

To date, through the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, the NHL's US and Canadian charitable foundations, and NHL supporters and fans, have donated more than $15 million to support national and local cancer research institutions, children's hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.

“I think this opportunity means the world, especially to the boys here tonight and of course all the kids back at the society,” said Hamilton.

“These superstars, these guys that they look up to, are so supportive and so kind and they’re helping them fight their battles.”

Hockey Fights Cancer is also a component of The Biggest Assist Happens Off The Ice, the NHL’s and NHLPA’s social responsibility program that builds on hockey’s long-standing tradition of addressing important social issues in North America and around the world.

“We get into a competitive situation every night as a team, so you can consider it a fight if you want — two teams battling — and that's in the sporting and entertainment world,” said Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.

“The real fight is what goes on in the real world, and cancer — I know everybody in here, there isn't one of us who hasn't been touched by it. To see those people fight is pretty inspirational and [this is] a chance for us to recognize it and give back to that cause…I think it's a great thing that our league does, I think our players really enjoy it, it's something that I'm proud to be a part of and I'm sure our whole organization is.”

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