CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - For Vincent Trocheck, the biggest battle of the year actually started at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, when his mother, Rita, was diagnosed with colon cancer right around a month after the Florida Panthers had wrapped up their season.
"I think it was May or June when she got diagnosed," Trocheck said after Monday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "She wasn't feeling well, got checked, and that's when [the doctors] found it. It was early enough and small enough that they said it wouldn't be too tough to go through it quickly, rather than if they would have caught it later."
At 50, Rita Trocheck was forced to endure six months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, receiving only a few brief respites here and there before undergoing a successful surgery to remove any remnants of the disease at the end of October.
"They ran tests and she was clear of it," said Trocheck, visibly relieved.
The fact that the diagnosis came at the beginning of summer actually proved to be somewhat of a blessing, Trocheck said, as the 24-year-old had more free time to spend at home in Pittsburgh supporting his mother with the rest of his family and friends - a group that he says sometimes "felt like more than a 100 people."
"It was good to be there, to help her if she needs help, to support her," Trocheck said of his time at home. "Honestly, you wouldn't have even known there was an issue with her. Throughout the whole summer she acted like nothing was wrong. She still did everything that she normally would have done if she weren't sick. She made it easier for us."
Rather than going public with his mother's diagnosis, Trocheck instead chose to remain mostly silent throughout her treatment, confiding in only a handful of his Panthers teammates while using hockey as his own personal escape.
"When you're on the ice I block everything out," said Trocheck, who is tied for the team lead with 16 points (7-9-16) in 14 games this season. "Obviously off the ice I was still thinking about it pretty much every second of the day, but once I got on the ice I wasn't thinking about it."
That silence finally broke on Nov. 1, when Trocheck jubilantly announced in an Instagram post that his mother had gone toe-to-toe with the terrible disease and won.
"You're so happy and excited about it you can't help but tell people," Trocheck said.
Long before he received the good news, Trocheck had been making an effort to get more involved in the fight against cancer. He partnered with the candy company IT'SUGAR to produce his own brand of sweet treats, the delightfully titled "Trochex Mix", with 20 percent of all sales going directly to a children's hospital in Pittsburgh.
"It goes to a sector of the hospital that for kids that have cancer that have to spend most of their time in the hospital," Trocheck said. " The money goes towards a section of the hospital that gives them somewhere to go whenever they're at the hospital, where they teach music classes and things like that. It gives them something to look forward to and a place to be happy at the hospital."
With the NHL currently in the midst of its annual Hockey Fights Cancer month, Trocheck is also raising money through his Movember page, a place fans can make donations and track the center's mustache growth over the next several weeks. "They need the most support," he said. "It's weighing on them mentally and physically every single day. They need all the support they can get."
An alternate captain and key piece of Florida's future on the ice, Trocheck said he learned a lot while watching his mother fight and win her battle with cancer, including how a true leader rises to the occasion regardless of circumstances.
"It definitely puts things in perspective," Trocheck said. "It showed us a lot. It showed us how tough she could be and kind of what you have to do to be a leader. She's like the leader of the house. It would have been easier for her to back down and want sympathy from everybody, but she still took charge of everything and was still taking care of all of us."
You can donate to Trocheck's cause by visiting his Movemeber page HERE.