Hockey communities are tight-knit. The Centennial School District in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities is no different.
Jody Anderson, a Centennial hockey mom, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. Shortly after that, the district came together and created the Stick It To Cancer Hockey Festival to help raise money for breast cancer research.
Fast-forward 18 years, and the festival has now raised close to $1 million for breast cancer research. It has not only expanded in size and money donated, but also profile: 2017 will be the first time the tournament is sanctioned by USA Hockey.
Pete Carlson is the director of ice operations and programming for the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota, where the tournament is held. He explained how the tournament began, how it has grown, and what the festival is really about.
USA Hockey: How did the festival originally start?
Pete Carlson: Well, it’s a sad story. A woman named Jody Anderson, she was a hockey mom in Centennial. She unfortunately got breast cancer, and it was a very involved hockey family. Her son, R.J., actually played for the Univeristy of Minnesota. She gets diagnosed with cancer, and they wanted to do a fundraiser for her at the ice rink. They had six or eight teams put together, and raised some money for her. Unfortunately, she did pass away, and they wanted to keep her name going, and the tournament going for all the good reasons. I want to say they ran it a couple of years with just six or eight teams, and then the National Sports Center got involved when we built the Schwan Super Rink. One of those rinks is the Centennial Rink. We put our efforts into it, and it went from eight teams, to 16 teams, to 32 teams, to a 100-team tournament over time. The good news is, over that time, the donations have gotten larger. Obviously with the numbers, as things get larger, we can start doing more things. It's been going for 17 years now. The donation is about $785,000 that we've raised so far.
USA Hockey: How has the tournament changed over the years as it has grown?
Carlson: The first dollars that were raised when they ran the event under Centennial Hockey, those dollars went directly toward the family. I'm not sure what it really raised then. But then the family said, "If you keep this going, great. We want to keep it going under Stick It To Cancer, Jody Anderson – there's a Jody Anderson trophy for the team that donates the most money – but the money now goes to the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Research Center. At different times, the donation has gone to different places. But for the last six, seven, eight years, it's gone to Masonic. We actually go to the hospital and see what they're doing. It really shows the players, the parents and the donors where the money is going. We thought that was an important piece to show. We do a check presentation for them. The donation was $37,200 last year. It's been as high as $98,000 in a year.
USA Hockey: What's the next step for this tournament?
Carlson: We don't think we're getting the word out enough to enough women's teams across the country that really should be playing in this tournament for the reasons that we're talking about. Spreading the word is the next step.
USA Hockey: What kinds of teams are participating?
Carlson: We have women's divisions at every single level possible, and we are really good about finding parity for every team that wants to participate. It doesn't generally happen, but if that means there were only two teams that could play each other evenly, we'll find a way to give them have a fun weekend. We have teams from top-level women just getting out of college hockey all the way to, I want to 50-55 years old. We'll make a bracket, we'll make a division, and it certainly is fun.
USA Hockey: Of course there's a competitive element to this, but what is this tournament really about?
Carlson: Hockey is why we're there, but it's really about getting these women together, and coming around and sharing the stories, and sharing the tears. There's a lot of tears this weekend. A lot of emotion going around the rink. One reason, and one way we capture that emotion is all the divisions are named after, the majority of them, are women that we've lost to cancer, and that will be the division name. Jody Anderson is one of them; that's the Jody Anderson Division. But depending on how many teams we get, how many divisions we can make, we've got this way that people can name the division after someone that they've lost, and we've got a couple of good survivor stories, too. That's a little more fun to talk about.
USA Hockey: Do teams have to fundraise a certain amount to participate?
Carlson: The fee is just to cover the hard cost of things. We have to pay for the ice, the staff, the Zamboni drivers, and things like that. We keep that fee down to $725. Then after that, everybody fundraises. That's not to say that we can't use some of those dollars – the more teams we get, the more we can use out of that entry fee as well (to donate). The real fundraising comes when teams come out on their own, and bring in another check. The fun part about this is the overtime policy. If a team is tied (after overtime), the team that raises the most money gets to advance, or basically gets the win. There's a little competition to go out and fundraise as well. We'll go into the record books and see who's donated the most money and raised the most. We're actually going to provide some ways to fundraise as well. We're going to print tickets, and those tickets will be good for certain raffles. We've always left it up to the teams to do that, but we’re always looking for more ways ourselves to give them opportunities to raise money.
USA Hockey: Hosting this tournament in Minnesota, what kind of local talent have you seen participate over the years?
Carlson: The biggest name that we have is Winny Brodt. She's a very popular Minnesota hockey player and former Minnesota Gopher. She's played on U.S. National teams. We're kind of at that stage now that those are the type of women that we do want to get in the event. This year, we're going to do a celebrity game, and we're going to try to get the Minnesota Whitecaps to come in and play. We want to take one or two players from teams that are interested that are in the tournament to form an all-star team. We're going to have a feature game, we're going to have an opening ceremony, and we're really trying to spice it up now, especially with USA Hockey behind us sanctioning the event.
USA Hockey: Can you explain the festival's slogan?
Carlson: The real focus of this whole thing, our slogan right now is, “Play for your eight.” One out of eight women will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer. That's two people in just about every locker room who are going to go through this. So it's really to play for your eight, and try to help us keep raising money. We're not far from hitting that $1 million mark, and that's another goal of ours. We're saying it out in front of everything: We want to hit the $1 million mark. It might take us two more years to do it; we don't want to take three more years. We want to get it done in the next two. So the more people talking about it, the better.
For more information on the Stick It To Hockey Cancer Festival, visit the website, and watch the video below.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”
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