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Hockey Fights Cancer has personal meaning for many Red Wings

Many players have close family members who have been affected by the disease

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - It doesn't matter if you're a professional athlete, a teacher, a chef or whatever, everyone is affected by cancer in some way.

Unfortunately, the Red Wings are just like everyone else in that regard, which is why tonight's Hockey Fights Cancer night is so important for all of them.

"Personally, my mom (Marie-Josee) is fighting cancer right now," defenseman Xavier Ouellet said. "Kind of around it a little bit. It's something that affects a lot of people. I think it's a good thing that we do something like that around the league and this game tonight means a lot to me."

Ouellet said his mother has been undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer.

"It's been a couple months and trying to go day to day, I guess," Ouellet said.

Justin Abdelkader is going through something similar in his own family. The father of his wife Julie, Mike Leshkevich, has Hurthle cell cancer, a rare cancer that affects the thyroid gland.

"It's affecting, it seems, more and more people as we go forward here," Abdellkader said. "It's something that hits home for everyone, whether it's a relative, family member, someone they know. It is important obviously to raise awareness, keep the awareness and all get behind a good cause."

Two of Andreas Athanasiou's aunts and his godparents have been afflicted with the disease.

His godmother and aunt Denise have fought breast cancer and his godfather battled stomach cancer.

"Everyone's affected in some way so any support definitely helps," Athanasiou said. "The ones that I mentioned are doing OK now. It's definitely good. I see them pretty often as well so it's always good to be there as much as possible."

The local chapter of the American Cancer Society is partnering with the Wings to bring more than 100 cancer patients, survivors and caretakers to see the game against the Los Angeles Kings.

Fans will be able to support the American Cancer Society through buying player-autographed mystery pucks and 50/50 raffle tickets, and also through an online auction of lavender player-used Red Wings Hockey Fights Cancer equipment.

Ouellet said he is trying to see his mom as much as he can during the season as she goes through treatment.

"She came to visit last weekend so that was a lot of fun," Ouellet said. "We're going there next week. Trying to spend as much time as I can with her and trying to bring her granddaughter (Thea) around her and have some family time."

KINGS ANOTHER TOUGH CHALLENGE: Wings coach Jeff Blashill likes to say that every game is a playoff game because there is so much parity in the league and every point is important to try to make the playoffs.

The Kings are having a bounce-back year after last year's injury-plagued campaign, currently 13-8-3 overall with a plus-13 goal differential.

The Kings are second in the Pacific Division with 29 points behind the Vegas Golden Knights' 31.

Captain Anze Kopitar already has 10 goals among 25 points in 24 games after recording just 12 goals among 40 points in 76 games last season. He is ranked 22nd in the league in scoring.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick has already played in 19 games, two more than he did last season when he missed extensive time after surgery to strengthen a tendon.

"They had a huge part of their team out for a large part of last year and one of the best goalies in the league," Blashill said. "I think they still play real north hockey. They get pucks in, they don't take any unneeded risks up the ice, they get pucks in behind you, they grind you in the O-zone, they're a great checking team. I think those things have been around for a while. Obviously, Quick has had a real good start. Darcy Kuemper has played real well and they've gained lots of confidence, but they've been a real good team for a number of years. It's a hard league to win every single year and that gets proven year in and year out. Sometimes you're going to have an off-year, especially when you lose a big piece like Quick."

Quick is 10-8-0-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.

At 6-foot-3, 224 pounds, Kopitar is one of many large players on the Kings. All of their defenseman are 6-feet or taller and weigh 200 pounds or more.

"They do have a pretty big team actually," Ouellet said. "Be tight on them again, try to be really intense and smart, win our battles. The big guys, you play them a little different. But at the end of the day, you need to take time and space away from them and you got to keep doing that."

But Ouellet said the Wings also want to keep the focus on their own game and force the Kings to react to that.

"We want to play our game, we want to play aggressive," Ouellet said. "I think we're really good when we get on our forecheck and play with a lot of passion and intensity. That's our trademark here, I think we have a really fast team and we need to use that. We need to use our speed and find a way to play in their zone and grind."

Blashill said Trevor Daley, who participated in the optional morning skate, would miss his second straight game with the neck injury. 

Jimmy Howard gets the start in goal.

FRK UPDATE: Martin Frk, who has missed six games with a groin injury, has practiced with the team for two days, including Tuesday's optional morning skate.

"It's going pretty good," Frk said. "I'm actually really happy how it's progressing and it's getting pretty much good with all the situations I did so far. Now the last thing I think will be just getting some contact with it and then I should be good to go after that."

While Frk is feeling a lot better, he doesn't want to rush back and re-injure it.

"I think the goal is to go Saturday," Frk said. "You want to be careful what you do. I don't want to go too early so I might probably just skip still Thursday and try to get better off the ice with treatment and be 100 percent ready to go Saturday. I think that's what is the plan, to go Saturday. If it's good to go Thursday, I can go try it but I don't want to risk it."

Frk is tied with Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen with six goals, behind team leader Anthony Mantha's 11 and Tomas Tatar's seven.

Needless to say, Frk is itching to get back to playing.

"It sucks to be watching the game from the lift room or here in the room," Frk said. "I definitely want to be on the ice. I don't want to be out of the lineup. I just want to keep playing, help the team win. It sucks always to get injury, you don't want anyone to get injured. I want (to play) as soon as I can get back in the lineup."

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