NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.
The news came when Keegan Groom was 11 years old. His mother, Kelly, informed her family that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Learning of his mother’s upcoming fight took time to process for the then-seventh grader.
“At first I don’t really remember comprehending it, and then it took about a week to sink in,” said Keegan. “Then I was like, you know what, I can’t really do anything about it right now. I’m young, I don’t really have that much authority, so I’m just going to see what happens and try and do my best to balance out what she has to do at home, so I can do everything for myself.”
It was a few months later that Keegan’s father, Rick, came across October Saves, a charity fundraising initiative that sees goaltenders of all ages take part to support breast and pediatric cancer research. Donations come via pledges or flat dollar amounts per save made by the participant in games during the month of October.
Immediately, Keegan, who plays for the Wantagh/Seaford/Plainedge, New York junior varsity and varsity teams and travel hockey for Brooklyn’s Aviator Hockey Club, wanted to take part. He wanted to do more than just put pink tape on his stick.
“I knew what other people had been going through having breast cancer because I had seen my mom go through it,” he said. “I just wanted to do something more to help people that go through the same thing.”
Two days after Kelly had surgery, Keegan revealed his plans. He showed her his October Saves page, which had already been active with donations. She couldn’t believe it. Here was her young son doing what he could to help others fight cancer and she was the inspiration. Along with tears, there was an overwhelming sense of proudness.
“We talk about how the things that he’s done now set him up for a lifetime of giving,” said Kelly. “Becoming second nature that, yeah, we give back.”
Playing for his middle school team at the time, Keegan had a high number of games that first October. Word continued to spread about what he was doing, and in the end he would raise $10,000.
Like many others battling a disease like breast cancer, Kelly wanted keep life the same as it was. Even while going through treatment, that meant still attending as many of her children’s activities that she could.
With Keegan traveling around the northeast for hockey games, she would come along to support her son, even in the coldest of rinks. Kelly had watched her own mother battle breast cancer and saw how she balanced treatments with raising a family and the importance of not allowing the disease to slow her down.
“I wanted to make everything as normal as possible,” she said. “I had two children. I had to go to everything.”
As the Grooms have learned over the years, hockey is family. Kelly was the third mother diagnosed with breast cancer on Keegan’s middle school team that season. The families helped one another, whether it was taking each other’s kids to games and practices to cooking meals so there was one less thing to worry about.
Again, it was all about keeping life as normal as possible.
“I got up every morning and got the kids out the door and went back to bed,” said Kelly. “You have to, and everyone would say, ‘Oh you’re so strong.’ You’d do the same thing. You don’t want the kids to be afraid. You get up and you do it. There’s no choice. There’s only the one mom.”
Committing himself to October Saves helped Keegan on the ice. With each save he knew he was helping people like his mom who were battling cancer. Rick would keep track of his son’s saves via an app and sometimes let him know his total in-between periods.
“It was a good amount of motivation that was going into it,” said Keegan, whose favorite goalie is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. “Even if I was bored in a game we were winning 10-0 I was still focused on it because I knew I was doing it for not just the team, I had an actual reason besides just wanting to win.”
Kelly is now two years cancer-free and Keegan participated in October Saves for third straight season this past fall. He finished 10th in the country after raising nearly $5,100, which topped his $4,000 total from 2018.
Keegan has been influential in getting a number of other goalies from around the Tri-State area involved. His success led to him being named New York state captain in 2019 to help expand the program’s reach.
Continuing to make a difference
Keegan’s giving spirit didn’t end with October Saves. Inspired by his mom, an avid reader, he headed up a book drive last April as part of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. He set up a donation box on the front porch of their home and spread the word through an Instagram flier. When the drive ended, he had collected 2,014 books in total to benefit The Book Fairies, a Long Island, New York non-profit organization that helps schools in underprivileged areas.
If a future in hockey doesn’t pan out, Keegan wants to explore the world of biochemistry. After Kelly’s diagnosis, she bought him the book, “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” by Randall Munroe. In it there’s a small section that touches on chemotherapy, which piqued his curiosity about not only what his mother was about to go through but also that part of the science world.
Down the line, it could be another area where the young goaltender makes an impact in the lives of others.
“I’ve always liked biochemistry since I started doing it in school,” he said. “I want to be able to sit in the lab and come up with cures for random things that no one knows how to pronounce.
“Even if it doesn’t make a big difference on the massive public it’s still a difference.”
NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
Red Wings at Penguins – NBC – 12 p.m. ET (Watch live) – John Forslund will call the matchup with Joe Micheletti from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.
Blues at Predators – NBCSN – 6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.
Hockey Day in America pre-game coverage on Sunday begins at noon ET on NBC from the plaza outside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Host Liam McHugh and analysts Keith Jones, Anson Carter, and Brian Boucher will anchor pre-game, intermission, and post-game coverage throughout the day.