Aside from UPMC Hamot Medical Center, cancer may find its most tenacious opponents in the Gannon University athletic department.
Two weeks after the women’s basketball team celebrated its annual Pink Zone game, the club hockey team is taking its turn increasing awareness in the fight against cancer at 9:45 p.m. Saturday at the Ice Center of Erie.
The 10-12 Gannon team will don purple jerseys as they battle rival D’Youville College. All money donated in sales and raffles will benefit Gannon University’s Relay for Life club.
“We wanted to help the community,” said junior forward and president Bobby Johns. “A lot of people are connected to cancer, either personally or through their relatives.”
The game, which will be played in hopes of making strides against cancer, means something to different to each player.
Freshman defenseman C.J. Thibault and sophomore defenseman Eli Stephans will have their own motivation come the drop of the puck this weekend.
Thibault, whose 17-year-old brother has been in remission from Leukemia for two years, said he has seen the pain that the disease can cause first hand.
“Anything I can do to help make sure more people won’t suffer,” Thibault said. “I don’t want them to go through what my family did.”
While Thibault’s brother successfully defeated cancer, some patients, like Stephans’ mom haven’t been as lucky. Stephans’ mom, who died last summer of lung cancer, will be weighing heavily on the defenseman each time he takes the ice.
“This game will be more emotional than others,” he said. “It’ll be in the back of my mind the entire game. I’ll be playing for her.”
Even though some on the team haven’t had firsthand experience with the disease like Thibault or Stephans, the magnitude of the game isn’t lost on them.
“Leading up to the game there will definitely be butterflies,” said Johns, who hopes to raise upwards of $2,000 with the event. “Not only is this the biggest game of the season, but besides a select few, this will be the biggest game of our lives.”
Stephans said that although other games may have mattered more in a hockey sense, Saturday’s contest will end up being more meaningful than any other in his career.
“This is definitely the most important game of my career,” he said. “If my mom didn’t pass away it wouldn’t be as special, but now I’m going to play my heart out for her.”
Despite having all systems go for the team’s fourth meeting of the year with D’Youville, the road to get this far was an arduous one.
Conceiving the idea, setting the dates and making the contacts were the easy parts. Johns then had to accomplish the tall task of convincing everyone else – students and players alike – that it was a good idea.
“Some were gung-ho about the idea right away while others needed to hear more about it,” Johns said. “Publicizing it and selling people on it has been the hardest task. We’re trying to make it a game they want to be at.”
Johns and company have only ramped up their public relations effort as they are now working overtime to get student participation.
“We’d like to tell people that it’s a great cause,” Stephans said. “Whether you’ve dealt with it personally or not doesn’t matter. You may not know the extent it can hurt families. It’d mean a lot to a lot of people to come.”
Not only will the large crowd have the satisfaction of knowing they helped battle cancer, they’ll also be treated to some quality hockey.
“It’s a fun time to be a Gannon hockey player,” Johns said. “We’re coming together at the right time and playing our best hockey of the year. We’ll be out there fighting for every goal.”
At least on Saturday, they’ll be fighting for more than just goals.