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Maatta Reflects on Hockey Fights Cancer Night

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

This evening marks the Penguins’ “Hockey Fights Cancer” awareness night, and it’s particularly

meaningful to the organization for a number of reasons – especially considering what Olli Maatta went through at this time last year.

A tumor was discovered on the young defenseman’s neck during preseason physicals, and doctors ran multiple tests before reaching their diagnosis: that the mass had an 85-percent chance of having cancer.

“(Cancer) is a scary word,” Maatta told me yesterday after practice. “I got scared a bit. Really surprised.”

Though he needed surgery to remove the tumor from his thyroid gland, which was confirmed to indeed contain cancer, Maatta did not have to go through any radiation or chemotherapy and he underwent a complete recovery – returning to the lineup two weeks later. He knows so many others who are diagnosed with forms of cancer are not as fortunate.

“At the end of the day, when I went and I talked to the doctor a lot, I found out it’s not really that bad,” Maatta said. “Mine was really young and nothing major and it was one surgery and done. The more hours we went through, the more we talked with doctors, the more confident I got that it’s really not that big of a deal for me. Obviously there’s more severe types of cancer out there. I can’t even imagine what they go through.”

However, finding it when they did was key, especially since Maatta is the last person one would expect to have cancer – as he was just 19 years old when he was diagnosed, not to mention an elite professional athlete.

“It was crazy,” Maatta reflected. “I felt extremely healthy. I felt I was extremely healthy at that point then just suddenly, out of nowhere they come in and tell me I’ve got a cancer. So it kind of shakes your world a bit and makes you think (about) how you live, your lifestyle a bit too. Like, have you done something wrong? But the more I talked with doctors, there is really nothing I could have done differently there.”

That’s why testing and early diagnosis is so important, and it’s a big reason why Maatta is grateful that the NHL and NHLPA team up for this initiative, where all 30 NHL teams host a “Hockey Fights Cancer” awareness night.

“It means a lot for me,” Maatta said. “Mine was really minor. But for other people, if they have more major types of cancer or a more severe type of cancer, I can’t imagine what they go through. I think it’s really important to have awareness and have these types of events.”

Here are some of the Penguins’ initiatives supporting Hockey Fights Cancer…

- Penguins players will wear special purple jerseys in pregame warm-ups. The jerseys will later be autographed and auctioned online from Oct. 30 through Nov. 13, with proceeds benefitting research at UPMC CancerCenter and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

- The coaching staff, team broadcasters and team management personnel will wear Hockey Fights Cancer ties and/or pocket squares.

- The spine of CONSOL Energy Center will be lit purple.

- Penguins’ wives and girlfriends along with Booster Club members will be selling Hockey Fights Cancer commemorative Mystery Pucks on the concourse.

- As part of the NHL’s ‘I Fight For’ campaign, support cards/signs will be available on the concourse for fans to personalize and display when cued during the game.

- The Ice Crew will wear Hockey Fights Cancer apparel and use equipment highlighted in purple.

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