I tried to be partial when it came to the Stanley Cup Finals and the San Jose Sharks. During the run to the Finals, the Sharks had a little black cat run onto the ice, Jo Pawvelski as she would come to been named. Many of you may not know the depth of my love of black cats, however my favorite soccer team is the Sunderland AFC Black Cats, also my first cat as an adult was a black cat named Madeline that I still miss to this day. I’m very much a black cat person.
Taking that into consideration, I’ve tried not to be partial to the Pittsburgh Penguins. I grew up watching the great “Super” Mario Lemieux and his sidekick Jaromir Jagr beat teams up in the historic Igloo in Pittsburgh. I always liked the guys who weren’t in the spotlight, guys like Martin Straka or Mike Needham. Guys you probably wouldn’t find on the scoresheet night in or night out, but they were the guys who skated and did the little things. These were guys who won draws or were able to get up and down the rink faster than the others.
Looking at the 2016 Penguins and their run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs I can’t help but be amazed as I watch guys who I’ve seen play at Wilkes-Barre Scranton. These “Baby Pens” are growing up and contributing with the big club and these “young kids” are pulling their weight. I’ve talked about them before, but I have been pulling for these guys because it’s like seeing your hometown club try to win a championship. Plus they’ve made the Northeast Pennsylvania area extremely proud to be a hockey area.
But there’s something else and it touches me closely. I knew Phil Kessel because he was a Toronto Maple Leaf and I knew there was animosity from the fans his situation there. People have made fun of his weight and the fact that sometimes he looks like he is out of shape when he gets back to the bench. Kessel is a cancer survivor after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2006. He’s been cancer free for over 9 years and he’s battled something that no one should have to go through, whether it’s testicular, breast, brain or any other type of cancer. As a member of the Event Leadership Team for an American Cancer Society Relay for Life, I can’t help but support Phil Kessel. Seeing his performance this Playoff season has made me want him to win the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. I can’t help it. He was 19 when he had cancer AND beat it. He went to the Maple Leafs and they made him out to be fat, lazy and a coach killer. He’s none of those. He’s a team player who has found a home in Pittsburgh with a team that respects and values him. Why no one has appreciated the fact that he beat cancer and continues to play at such a high level is beyond me. It’s no easy thing to beat cancer and I’ve seen survivors and caregivers who back that up.
I’m holding out for Kessel to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe so that he can get some vindication for all the years that he’s taken crap from people about conditioning, diet and whatever else people could find to throw at him. Kessel deserves a tremendous amount of credit for finding a way to beat cancer and stay cancer free because that is no easy feat. I hope he accomplishes his dream. Maybe I’ll get a Kessel jersey so every time I pull it on and step on the ice I can push myself just a little harder knowing what the man must have gone through. My demons I’m going through learning to play hockey are minuscule compared to what he must have gone through.