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Red Wings help hockey fight cancer

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk signs Alex Berlin's jersey after the team's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday. (Photo by Alex DiFilippo/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — The sights, sounds and even smells of an ice rink are no stranger to Alex Berlin.

The 23-year-old from Canton, Mich., grew up playing hockey and stayed active by playing in 18-and-over leagues while attending classes at Michigan State University. Last spring, during a charity hockey game between fraternities raising money for cancer research, Berlin noticed something wrong with his leg.

“We were playing hockey and I noticed a pain in my leg and it got harder and harder to lift my foot," he said. "As soon as I couldn’t lift my foot anymore, at that point it was MRI time. After that, I found out it was a big tumor.”

Berlin was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, one week after graduating from MSU with a master’s degree in accounting and has been going through treatment ever since.

“Everyone’s trying to think, ‘Oh what’s the real world going to be like, I’ve got to find a job, I’m out of college now’ and I’m only worried about battling this tumor and beating cancer," he said. "I’m just thinking well, just another thing I’ve got to beat. Just add it to the list, lets do it.”

Thursday morning, Berlin watched the Red Wings’ morning skate along with 45 other cancer patients and survivors. Afterward, he went down to the team locker room and met with Red Wings stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

“Those guys were pretty cool,” Berlin said. “As a cancer patient you think about cancer all day, every day and its nice to take your mind off of it. Growing up, seeing all these guys and being a big fan, it’s nice to personally meet them.”

Accompanied by his young brother, Chandler Berlin, the two asked Datsyuk and Zetterberg about the team’s upcoming game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, what its like playing in the Eastern Conference and how to handle the puck like the Magic Man.

“If everyone could have his hands, that’d be awesome,” Alex said.

Chandler said his older brother has been an inspiration and changed so many lives through the #LiftForBerlin movement. A trending campaign on social media, #LiftForBerlin is a way to show support, encouragement and positive energy for Alex and all cancer patients.

“When he’s working out with what he’s going through it’s tough not to work out and try to stay active,” Chandler said. “This whole Red Wings thing, the hockey thing is awesome. I mean he loves this, he wants to stay active. He doesn’t want to sit around, that’s not him. He wants to get out … he just wants to play some hockey.”

The first and only time the brothers played in a game together was the charity game last spring before Alex was diagnosed. But Alex is determined to return to the ice and play hockey again soon.

“I actually skated for the first time about a month ago, (it's) therapeutic,” he said. "I can’t wait to get back on the ice and continue playing the sport I love.”

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