Masco, Shawsheen hockey play for a cause
By P.J. Wright GLOBE CORRESPONDENT FEBRUARY 03, 2017
As the Masconomet Regional High School hockey teams assembled inside their locker rooms, it was clear these weren’t the usual pregame conditions.
For the boys, Jan. 20 was Senior Night, the last time the seniors would play a home game at Veterans’ Memorial Skating Rink in Haverhill.
The girls, who had started the season 4-0, needed a win Jan. 21 to stop a slump.
However, on these two nights, each team also sought victories for a different reason. The Chieftains were suiting up to play in Masconomet’s fifth annual Coaches vs. Cancer games.
“Sometimes before games we’re fooling around in the locker room, but in this game it has a very serious vibe in there,” senior Joe Flak said. “Coach [Andrew Jackson] doesn’t really need to give us a big pep talk. It’s an emotional game for all of us.”
“We play with a little more motivation and a little more purpose,” said Madi Brooke, a senior on the girls’ squad, which beat Brookline/Newton South that night, 4-1.
Teams around the state wear pink jerseys and accessories and cover their sticks with bright pink tape to support the cause. Parents and coaches get in on the action as well, with pink shirts, hats, and banners seen from every corner of the rink.
The Shawsheen Valley Technical High School boys’ team raised $2,650 in a game against Wakefield at Hallenborg Ice Rink in Billerica on Jan. 19. The Rams also won the game, 3-2.
Shawsheen began hosting the event six years ago, starting small by selling shirts and handing out donation cards. This year, through donations from the crowd, bigger raffle prizes such as Bruins tickets, and chuck-a-puck contests, the Rams had their most successful fund-raiser yet.
Lyn Mills, whose son Christopher is a senior defenseman on the team, has volunteered to organize the event every year. She lost both her parents to cancer.
“It brings in a lot of people who maybe didn’t want to go,” she said. “We had a parent who previously fought breast cancer, and she hadn’t been to one of her son’s games in six years. That was really exciting for all of us.”
“We’re always there to win a game, but in this game, win or lose, it’s great knowing that we’re kicking back to a great cause that unfortunately affects so many families,” Shawsheen coach Chuck Baker said.
As for Masconomet, its two games raised more than $2,200 for the American Cancer Society. The money also will benefit Relay For Life of Topsfield , for which Brooke has been a committee member for the past four years.
“Everyone wants to come out for the fight,” she said. “All of the parents get really involved with it as well, and I think that’s pretty great.”
“It’s awesome that we can go out there and raise as much as we can for an excellent cause,” said Jackson, the Masconomet boys’ coach, who lost his grandfather to cancer. “It shows the kids that there’s a bigger world out there and that life is so precious.”
The cause also hits home for girls’ head coach Ryan Sugar, whose brother battled leukemia from infancy until he was 8 before it went into remission.
“The fact that everyone is not only willing but excited to support the cause is a great thing,” Sugar said. “Whether it’s coaches, players, or parents, we all know someone who’s been affected by cancer, and it’s definitely had a huge impact on my family and is one of the reasons why this game is special.”
The Masconomet community felt the effects of cancer up close last September when public address announcer Steve Pease, “The Voice of Masco Hockey,” lost his battle with brain cancer.
“He was a huge part of our program even though he wasn’t a player on the team,” Bennett said. “You could hear the love that he had for the game in his voice and with his words off the ice.”
Pease’s youngest son, Nick, was a senior on the team last season and said playing in his final Coaches vs. Cancer game was a special moment in his life.
“It really meant a lot to be able to play in a game like that,” he said. “My dad was really proud of me, how I played, and it was just a really great time. I was around 22 of my closest friends, and it especially meant a lot to me that to see that my teammates cared about it as much as I did. Everyone took pride in it and it made me really happy.”
Another Masconomet senior on last year’s team, T.J. McHugh, had cancer as a child and gave the boys some extra motivation.
“We would look over to the bench, he was our brother, and we were fighting for him,” Flak said.
For those who have lost family and friends to cancer, the game is a particularly special night during the season.
“I think everybody on the team raised their hand when asked if they were affected by cancer,” said sophomore Brendan Driscoll. “For me, my grandmother had cancer and I think it’s our most important game of the season, just because you can always count on everybody to be trying their best, giving it their all.”
“When I was in fifth grade, one of my best friends’ mom died of cancer and it was the first time I had ever had the experience of something where the whole community mourned together but also celebrated this person’s life,” said senior Izzy Sarra. “Every year when we play the game I remember that and remember how lucky I am to be able to help this cause.”
P.J. Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.