This weekend 20 hockey teams will hit the ice in an effort to raise as much as money as they can.
Hockey For Life is an annual fundraiser started by Melanie and Gaston Leoni to raise money for the American Cancer Society and an “All Star” in the community.
This year that All Star is Zoe Phillips of Hartford.
Zoe, 9, the daughter of Jason Phillips and Augustina Contraras, was originally diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in August 2016. Zoe completed her last treatment in September 2017, but in November 2017 they were told her cancer came back in her brain, according to a GoFundMe page to help with her medical treatment. Zoe is undergoing radiation and chemotherapy again.
Melanie Leoni said they will bring Zoe and her family out on the ice Saturday in Kalamazoo and she’ll get to drop a puck for the players. Her and her family will get a meal, gifts and a cash donation.
“We just kind of feel like sometimes people get impressions that hockey players are rough and tough. This is our way of showing that hockey players care,” Leoni said.
She said they find a family to honor each year through different ways.
“I found out about Zoe through a Facebook friend, and my husband works at Gast Manufacturing, and they did a fundraiser for her. In the past we’ve found them through word of mouth. One child we found in the paper. Sadly it’s not usually hard to find a child with cancer,” Leoni said.
She said the reason her and her husband started the fundraiser is because she had a cousin die of breast cancer. They started a Relay for Life team and just kept thinking of other ways to raise money.
Hockey For Life was started in 2005, and since then it has raised somewhere around $200,000, Leoni said.
“Last year we raised $26,000 and that was our biggest year. It seems to grow a little bit each year,” she said.
Leoni said the first year they only had four teams and now it’s up to 20.
“I’ve had a lot of family with cancer, so being able to give back for cancer research is just something I’m passionate about,” she said. “I think it has grown because it touches so many people. Everyone knows someone that has had cancer.”
Leoni said the games start at 5:30 p.m. today and run through 5 p.m. Sunday at Wings West in Kalamazoo.
“There are two rinks and plenty of games going on. There is a restaurant above one of the rinks where you can watch a game while you’re eating. We’ll have a silent auction running until 7 p.m. Saturday, 50/50 raffles and other things like that,” she said.
Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman