TORONTO – Cancer took Mike Babcock’s mom too soon.
If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance the disease has touched your life or your family as well. That’s why it’s easy to reflect on things beyond the sport you love on day like this one at Air Canada Centre – with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks celebrating the NHL’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” awareness campaign.
Several players will use sticks with lavender tape in Saturday’s game while Babcock and his coaching staff will wear lavender ties. Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson will do the same while broadcasting the game on Hockey Night in Canada.
The advertisements on the rink boards will be in lavender and the charitable proceeds from 50/50 sales will go to Camp Trillium – a support centre for children with cancer and their families. Forty of them attended Saturday’s morning skate and they’ll be in attendance for the game as well.
To Babcock, the “Hockey Fights Cancer” initiative underscores the importance of raising funds for research. It also affords him an opportunity to reflect on his mother Gail, who passed away in 1991.
“When my mom died of cancer … I was young,” Babcock said this week. “I didn’t know anyone had cancer. Cancer’s an interesting thing: When someone in your family gets cancer, your family gets cancer and it affects your whole life.”
It’s little wonder why the Leafs coach has been such a big supporter of cancer-related charities during his career.
Babcock is friends with former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who lost his son Andrew to a brain tumour in 1998. When he was coaching for Cincinnati in the American Hockey League a few years later, his son lost a friend named Jeffrey Thomas Hayden to the disease.
“A little boy that played with my kid every day – he was 12 at the time – died of brain cancer too,” said Babcock. “It’s affected our life a lot.”
He’s done a lot of work for the Jeffrey Thomas Hayden Foundation in the years since.
Babcock also hosted a cancer patient from the Children’s Hospital of Michigan during home games when he was with the Detroit Red Wings and he’s brought the program with him to Toronto. He’s partnered with Sick Kids here and spends 1-on-1 time with a cancer patient before every game at the ACC.
Like many around the NHL, Babcock took note when news surfaced last weekend that Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson’s wife Nicholle had been diagnosed with cancer. He’s had the family in his thoughts.
“Your life’s going pretty good, you’re a NHL goalie, you’ve got a beautiful woman for a wife and then suddenly what’s important resonates with you in a hurry,” said Babcock. “Playing in the NHL is a fantastic thing, but your family’s much more important than that.”
The lavender-taped sticks from the Canucks-Leafs game will be donated and auctioned off for charity. The MLSE Foundation also announced that it would give $344,000 to Camp Trillium.
There was a spirit of giving in the air prior to puck drop as well as one of reflection.
“Those people that are suffering and their families are suffering from the battle of cancer, I pray for them and I wish them well,” said Babcock. “But in the meantime we’ve got to raise money to help them out.”
On Saturday night in Toronto, hockey plans to do its part.