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.
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