During the month of November, the NHL contributes to the fight against cancer with their ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’ nights, bringing funding and awareness to the cause.
Each of the 31 NHL teams take pride in participating. The teams choose one home game during the month of November to dedicate to those affected by the disease. The players wear lavender jerseys during warm ups in addition to their own personal touches like lavender stick tape or skate accessories.
The league began this initiative after Former Tampa Bay Lightning forward John Cullen was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1997. Cullen had played in 13 NHL seasons before his diagnosis.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer that develops in white blood cells and can begin in different parts of the body causing a variety of symptoms.
Cullen went through six rounds of radiation and chemotherapy along with a bone marrow transplant that stopped his heart temporarily.
After taking a year off to go through his recovery, Cullen attempted to play in the NHL again during the 1998-99 season, but decided to retire after just four games.
Due to the recent cancer diagnosis of New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle, who played with the Lightning from 2014 to early 2017, the current Lightning players dedicated their Hockey Fights Cancer night to Boyle.
Boyle wasn’t the only recent diagnosis that left the Lightning community solemn. FOX Sports Sun television host Paul Kennedy was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer approximately two weeks ago. Kennedy is in his 12th season as the Lightning’s rink side reporter but is taking a hiatus to deal with his diagnosis and recovery.
Players posed carrying signs saying who they fight for pre-game to show support for those who have been personally affected by the disease. Fans are given ‘I Fight For’ signs upon entry during Hockey Fights Cancer night and encouraged to write down someone they fight for. These pictures are shared throughout the arena and social media, uniting thousands of survivors and supporters.
“I look forward to this night every year,” said Kyrah Joseph, a longtime Lightning fan, “I am pursuing a career as a physician’s assistant at USF and have a personal connection the the subject.”
All around the league, players, staff and fans share their own stories regarding the vicious disease. Vancouver Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson has been very vocal about his brother’s battle against Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a cancer that develops within different blood forming cells and can progress quickly if untreated. A bone-marrow transplant is the most common treatment for this particular cancer.
Gudbranson’s younger brother, Denis was just six years old when he was diagnosed. At the age of 11, Gudbranson had to take on a lot more responsibility than the average 11 year old. He became the third parent in his household having to look after his other younger brother, Alex, and his younger sister, Chantel.
Gudbranson’s brother received a bone-marrow transplant after having been in remission and then having the cancer return just a few months later.
Denis is now a healthy 19 year old attending college at Concordia University in Montreal.
Additionally, NBCSN announcer, former player and Stanley Cup Champion Eddie Olczyk was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this season and is currently receiving treatment.
“In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
The awareness that the NHL and many other professional sports leagues have brought to this cause is one of the many reasons why people like Denis Gudbranson are able to find donors that are willing to help.
The league plans to continue this initiative for as long as it possibly can, hopefully leading to a cure.