Hockey 4 Hope Celebrates Ten YearsPosted: Updated:
After Brian Laing lost his Aunt Connie to breast cancer in 2006, he turned his grief into an opportunity to help others. He founded the Constance Foundation, an organization dedicated to aiding the financial burdens associated with cancer. Three years later, the first Hockey 4 Hope charity game was held at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
"There are tons of black-tie galas, charity events, running events, but there isn't really a hockey charity event for cancer," said Laing. "When I moved back to town, I got my hockey buddies together, said let's play a charity game, and this is what it turned into."
Ten years later, the game's popularity has grown exponentially, with higher attendance rates and more interest in playing in the charity game.
"Within the first two minutes registration was open this year, all 34 roster spots were filled, and we had a substitute list of about 90."
The roster, though not hard to fill, is full of people from different walks of life, from all over the country, of all ability levels. One of the most notable players is former NHL player Chris Bala, who played prep school hockey with Laing. Bala honored his aunt who was recently diagnosed with her second bout of cancer by wearing her name on his jersey.
Every year each player honors someone who has either lost their battle with cancer or is currently fighting by wearing their name on the back of their jersey. Mark Laskoski wore his own name this year, as he survived a battle with cancer.
"It's an emotional night," said Laskoski, competing in his eighth Hockey 4 Hope game. "I take it as an opportunity to reflect on my own journey."
His best friend of thirty years Sean Gamsby plays alongside him, having survived a testicular cancer diagnosis at age 25.
"I was given a 50/50 shot of survival," said Gamsby. He helped Laskoski through his diagnosis decades later, giving him the firsthand support his friend needed.
The two friends have worn each others names on their jerseys in the past, skating for one another's survival.
The jerseys are not the only tribute to loved ones who have been touched by cancer. The ice at SUNY Broome was painted on Friday night at the annual Paint the Ice event, where people wrote messages of love, hope, and remembrance. Skating on the ice and seeing who people are skating for is emotional for every player out there.
"There are a lot of people, a lot of families, a lot of individuals whether they're here or not who are affected in a positive way by this game," said Bala.
"To see it on the ice is one more visual reminder that what we're doing here helps a lot of other people."