Hockey Fights Cancer

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Book excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life

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The NHL on NBC’s Eddie Olczyk was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in Aug. 2017 and after a long journey was deemed cancer-free seven months later. Since beating cancer, the former player and current analyst has been dedicated to be an advocate for those fighting the disease and their families.

Olczyk was recently named the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer Ambassador for the 2019-20 season and his new book “Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” tells the story of his fight.

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On February 21, at precisely 9:02 am, I was unhooked from my final chemo treatment. What a relief! It was incredible to be finally done — epic. I was done after six months. I had a bunch of family and friends call and congratulate me and I received so many texts from the hockey and horse racing worlds with exclamation points. Diana brought me a bouquet of helium balloons shaped like horses and dogs with the words You Did It. She almost flew away because of all the balloons. 

After that last round of chemo, I got rid of anything that reminded me of what I had gone through during those treatments—clothes, pillows, blankets. Anything that reeked of chemo, I disposed of. That felt really good. The week before I went to the mall and went on a shopping spree. I was about to embark on the rest of my life and the rest of my career. 

It was around this time that Illinois congressman Mike Quigley spoke on the House floor and addressed my situation. He had a Blackhawks jersey with my name and number brought in for display and talked about my battle and what I had been doing to raise awareness about the need for earlier screenings and continued research to find a cure. He described me as a native son of Chicago who has exemplified the heart, grit, and the character of the city we both call home. 

“Like many others who have faced cancer, he was concerned that he was letting people down and he began to question his mortality, but as he went through treatment and reflected on this ordeal Eddie started to recognize that it was okay to be scared,” Congressman Quigley said. “He knows it’s important to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with people getting colonoscopies at an earlier age. He knows that if he can help just one individual get a checkup sooner, he will feel like his battle with cancer was worth it. To Eddie and to all fighting cancer, stay strong and know we’re with you.” 

I was very grateful for him doing that. What an honor.

On March 8 I had the scan and the next day while traveling with the team to Boston, I asked Dr. Michael Terry, the Blackhawks team physician, if he had any update. He had been part of my illness from the start; I call him the captain of my doctors. 

He had access to the scan on his iPhone. He looked at me and said, “Edzo, from what I can see, it looks really clean.” 

I gave him a huge hug because I’d just dodged a huge bullet. After getting emotional, I took a couple of deep breaths. I wanted to yell something like what most hockey players do after they score a goal, but I was just overcome thinking about so much—my family, my kids, my friends. I just couldn’t wait to tell Diana that it looked good, but we still had to wait to hear from Dr. Mulcahy. 

It was a relief and a half that it was all gone. Thank God. I was so thankful for the physicians and the team that I had and the support I had. It’s always going to be with me, but I felt okay. We had come a long way since that first meeting with Dr. Mulcahy. Yes, it was absolute hell for six months. Going through the chemo was the most difficult part because there was a chance, God forbid, I’d have to continue with more treatment. 

I endured a lot and tackled it straight on and felt like I had conquered it. Now I had to recover and rid myself of all this medicine and tell my story to encourage people to go in for checkups and get colonoscopies. This is why we tried to be so open and outgoing without being overbearing. If you don’t feel good or you get to the age of 45, you’ve got to get checked, whether you have a history of cancer in your family or not. 

I called Diana after we deplaned and told her the news and we subsequently gave the heads-up to the kids. 

Four days later, at 5:07 pm, Dr. Mulcahy called and told me I was cancer-free. Diana was there with me and we didn’t do anything special other than maybe hug a little tighter when I got back home. It was like, “We did it. Let’s get as far away from this as we can.” 

On March 22, just before the start of the second period of a game at the United Center between the Hawks and the Vancouver Canucks, I went back on the air with Pat Foley to update people on my condition. He told the audience that because of what I had gone through, he had gotten a colonoscopy, as had Troy Murray and a bunch of Pat’s friends. He said my ability to go public with what I had gone through was tremendously inspirational and also heroic, because anybody who has gone through chemotherapy knows how devastating a situation that can be. 

Happily, I told everyone I was cancer-free. I reiterated as I had throughout my battle that it was a team effort, including the doctors, the entire Hawks organization, the National Hockey League, the people I worked with on TV, my family, my wife, my children, and my friends. If it wasn’t for my family, there was no way I could have gone through this. We all beat this. And I said I had done enough crying to last me a lifetime. 

Pat was so pumped. “You beat cancer, baby!” he exclaimed. 

Now that I was publicly revealing I was cancer-free, I wanted to reinforce to people who were battling cancer or knew someone going through it that they are not weak individuals. My message for them was to stay strong, believe they are tough, and believe they will beat it. I ended the interview by saying if I could inspire one person to stay away from this by going for a colonoscopy, then I guess it was well worth it. It tests your will to live. 

I did a bunch of interviews afterward, just as I had done since I went public with my cancer battle, so it was kind of like going full circle. It wasn’t easy but it’s a lot less stressful when you’re telling them the happy ending of the story. Sharing that news was such a relief. 

I subsequently underwent the hernia surgery in which they put an 8″x10″ piece of mesh in my stomach to seal it up and fix it. In a way, it also felt like the final touch on my long journey.

This excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life by Eddie Olczyk with Perry Lefko is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.  For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/EddieOlczyk.

Olczyk honored during Hockey Fights Cancer night in Chicago

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The Chicago Blackhawks honored one of their own on Hockey Fights Cancer night at the United Center on Sunday.

Eddie Olczyk skated onto the ice fighting back tears as the Chicago faithful cheered him on.

The honoring was two-fold.

First, it was a part of Chicago’s ‘One More Shift’ ceremony that’s included former players such as Ed Belfour, Steve Larmer and Jeremy Roenick.

Secondly, it was a chance to properly acknowledge Olczyk’s fight against Stage 3 colon cancer, a battle he waged for months before announcing in March that he was cancer-free.

Olczyk took the ceremonial faceoff opposite of Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu (whose brother Saku missed the entire 2001-02 season with Burkitt’s lymphoma).

Carter Holmes, an 11-year-old Blackhawks fan who is in remission after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June, got to drop the puck after spending time with the team thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Olczyk gave Holmes a hug after handing him the puck.

Olczyk played 222 games for the Blackhawks across five seasons, scoring 77 goals 132 points. The 52-year-old was drafted third overall by Chicago in the 1984 NHL Draft and went on to play 1,031 games with six different teams over his 16-year career, including stops in Winnipeg, Toronto, New York, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

With the Rangers, Olczyk lifted the Stanley Cup in 1994.

Olczyk has been working with NBC as a color commentator since 2006.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Boyle scores first career hat trick on Hockey Fights Cancer Night

Associated Press
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Brian Boyle has been through hell and back over the past year, and that’s what made Tuesday night in Pittsburgh that much more special for the New Jersey Devils forward.

Boyle had never scored a hat trick in his 12-year NHL career, but that was about to change on a fitting night in Pittsburgh.

The Devils were in town to face the Penguins, who were hosting Hockey Fights Cancer Night. Fighting cancer is something Boyle knows all too well.

The 33-year-old was diagnosed with Chronic myeloid leukemia last September and missed the opening of the 2017-18 season. Boyle would return, helping lead the Devils to the playoffs, making a pit stop at the NHL All-Star game and becoming an inspiration to anyone entrenched in a battle of their own.

Just over a week ago, Boyle announced his cancer had gone into remission and on Tuesday night Boyle, now a cancer survivor, stuck it to the disease one more time as he scored his first career hat trick — a natural hatty for good measure.

Some stories just write themselves.

The NHL began its 20th annual Hockey Fights Cancer initiative on Nov. 1. Each team across the NHL hosts one home game dedicated to the cause.

This year, Boyle’s wife Lauren was named the official Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador.

NHL.com is publishing several stories from Lauren, who will detail her personal experience as the couple battled the disease.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Masks of Jake Allen, Carter Hutton to honor kids impacted by cancer

St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues will hold their Hockey Fights Cancer night during their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday, and both goalies, Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, will be sporting special masks.

Allen, who will back up, saw the concept for his mask design created by Alex Pietrangelo’s niece, Ellie Kannel. Three years ago she was diagnosed with a form of kidney cancer that affects mostly children. Along with a Hockey Fights Cancer logo, the Blue Note and a snake drawing done by Ellie, the names of children who have been affected by cancer will also be featured, thanks to a gorgeous paint job by Jason Livery of Head Strong Grafx.

There will be close to 400 names of kids who have battled cancer on Hutton’s mask when he starts versus the Kings. In the design of the “I Fight For…” cards that players and staff have filled out during the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer month, the mask is a stunning reminder of just how many people the disease touches.

“It’s definitely powerful,” said Hutton via the Blues website. “For them to be able to individualize it with every kid on there, they’ve been through so many battles in their life, it’s going to be a great honor to wear their name. When you see how much cancer affects everyone on a day-to-day basis, I’m just happy to be part of it.”

Created by Jesse Acciacca of Jesse’s Custom Designs, Hutton’s mask will be donated to Friends of Kids with Cancer and will be auctioned off in the future. Allen’s will be up for bid during the team’s Casino Night last this season benefiting St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

The Blues as a team will be wearing bedazzled jerseys during warm-ups in honor of the late Ari Dougan, an 11-year-old who passed away last month following an eight-year battle with cancer. She had formed a very close bond with Vladimir Tarasenko over the last few years and the star forward and Dougan’s family will take part in the pre-game faceoff.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Alex Ovechkin delivers memorable night for young cancer survivor (Video)

Sportsnet
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Alex Ovechkin made a promise before Saturday night’s game. He told 13-year-old Alex Luey that if he scored against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he would try and find him in the Air Canada Centre crowd.

Luey beat osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and had a wish to meet Ovechkin, his favorite hockey player. He got that chance thanks to Sportsnet’s “Hometown Hockey,” which surprised him last month with a video message from the Capitals captain. In it, Ovechkin told him he couldn’t wait to see him when Washington was in town to face the Maple Leafs.

[Ovechkin continues ascent up the NHL’s goal-scoring list]

Fast forward to Saturday with the occasion being the Maple Leafs’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night. Luey was on the Capitals bench for warmups and read out the starting lineup inside the team’s dressing room. Ovechkin then delivered two gifts in the first period with a pair of goals. He capped off the night with an empty-netter to seal the win and complete his 20th career hat trick and bring Luey and his family to tears.

“I said if I’m going to score a goal, it’s going to be for him,” Ovechkin said afterward. “After my first goal, I tried to look in the stands. He tell me where he’s going to sit, but I couldn’t see him.”

The memories didn’t stop there for Luey, who was also given Ovechkin signed gloves, helmet and a stick. Inside the Capitals room again after the game, goaltender Philipp Grubauer presented him with their player of the game award to a standing ovation.

That’s a memory that will last a lifetime for both Luey and his family, and Ovechkin.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.