DETROIT - Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith and Peggy DeHaven now have a special bond.
DeHaven is a four-year breast cancer survivor. Smith's grandmother, Joyce, and grandfather, Lester, both fought that same disease.
"My grandfather got it twice so he fought the good fight the first one and unfortunately the second time through, it kind of got the better of him," Smith said. "Both my grandmother and grandfather passed away from it. I just think a lot of people, whether it's a friend or family, have been hit by that cancer bug. My little brother, my older brother, I think we hold this month pretty close to our hearts from our situation and it's great to give back and help. Hopefully we can find some cure for it but in the meantime, it's just the awareness and getting everybody together."
Smith, Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings have partnered to host 60 cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in a suite for tonight's Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night.
Many in the group came to watch the Wings' morning skate and enjoyed lunch in the Comerica Bank Legends Club.
Then Smith arrived to welcome the group, take some photos and sign autographs.
"It's like a dream come true, it really is," DeHaven said of the whole day. "Probably if I had a bucket list, it would be on my bucket list because it's something that's just amazing."
It was an amazing experience for Smith as well.
"That's so cool. To me, that's the best, meeting some of the survivors that have went through it, and just the family members," Smith said. "That's who I was, a family member seeing how it was all going down, being so close to it, but not being able to do anything to help. Those are hard times but being able to see their faces, talk to them, get their perspective, it's fun to be a part of that and kind of give back in that sense."
Smith isn't the only Wing whose family has been affected by cancer.
"I had a cousin that we lost to leukemia, he was 18, so it really hits home," Drew Miller said "His name was Matt. I've had his initials on my stick for almost the last 10 years now. It's definitely an emotional thing. It's a terrible disease, it takes people. So tonight I'll be thinking of him, as every game I think of him."
Wings coach Jeff Blashill is also proud to be a part of the Wings' efforts in fighting the disease.
"Like everybody else, we've all been impacted with cancer," Blashill said. "It's such a tough disease. One of my really closest friend's boy went through a tough time. In my own family, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple years ago. He's doing great right now. Certainly, other people have had tougher times but all of us have been affected."
For 15-year-old Samantha Dye of Canton, Mich., the Wings became her team when they visited her at the Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit when she was going through acute lymphoblastic leukemia first at the age of three and then again during a recurrence at age seven.
"It was just really exciting," Dye said. "It was like, there was a group of a big sports team that cared to come and visit Children's Hospital."
Dye is now cancer-free and will serve as the honorary puck drop captain for tonight's game against the Boston Bruins.
"Last night I was talking to my friends and we were all talking about the players. I'm just really excited," Dye said. "I was telling my friends, they're on a big winning streak, it's going to be a great game."
Dye said her favorite players are Michigan natives Dylan Larkin and Danny DeKeyser.
DeHaven said Darren McCarty was always her favorite player but she might have a new favorite.
"Now I think it's Brendan Smith," DeHaven said. "I'm in his suite. It was just so special. I love the Red Wings, I've always been just a really big fan. My sons all played hockey and the Red Wings have always been my team, ever since I was a young girl."
Fans are encouraged to wear lavender to the game to support cancer awareness and they will receive an official "I Fight For" rally towel.
Those who purchase player-autographed mystery pucks and 50/50 raffle tickets can help support the American Cancer Society. In addition, the Wings will be holding an online auction of lavender player-used Red Wings Hockey Fights Cancer equipment. Those proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program, which provides patients rides to and from treatment.
"I think it's awesome," Smith said. "It's such a cool thing. A lot of sports are doing it and I think it's just that whole thing where you bring everybody together for a month and you kind pf give that hope to all these people. It's a really cool thing that the NHL does. I'm glad that I can be a part of it."