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At Stick it to Cancer hockey tournament April 7-9, players are playing for a higher cause

03/15/2017, 5:45pm CDT
By Barclay Kruse, Chief Communications Officer

As surely as spring comes to the National Sports Center in Blaine, an early April weekend at the Schwan Super Rink will go pink. For the 19th straight year, female hockey teams will take the ice and play for a higher cause.

The annual Stick it to Cancer hockey tournament, set for April 7-9, will draw both youth and adult female teams to play for a championship, but more importantly, to raise funds to fight breast cancer.

“Hockey’s a very competitive sport,” says tournament director Kristina King. “When you play hockey, your goal is to win the championship, to win the game. A tournament like this ties in a greater purpose, and gives people a bigger perspective on life.”

Over the nearly two decades the tournament has been held, a total of $763,000 has been donated to breast cancer research. For the most of those years, the beneficiary has been the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, and this year’s donation will go to the same organization.

“It’s rewarding to see people come together for a cause,” says King. “They’re still playing a competitive sport, but the most important aspect isn’t winning the game, it’s helping people raise money, or to honor people who have passed away.”

King first played in the tournament on her 10-year old team, but like many young players, she had to grow into an understanding of the importance of the cause.

“I remember a lot of pink,” she says. “But at that age I didn’t really understand the big picture. You’re still young, you’re still learning. But when I was 16, I lost my aunt to breast cancer, and that changed everything for me.”


At the Stick it to Cancer tournament, there is an opportunity to honor family and friends lost to breast cancer.

The personal connections to those lost to breast cancer, and also to survivors, reaches to nearly everyone at the tournament.

“One of our talking points is that one out of every eight women will contract breast cancer,” says King. “If you look at my high school team (King coaches at Centennial High School,) with 33 kids, that’s four out of the 33 who will possibly develop breast cancer. It could be any of us. It could be an 8-year old kid playing in on the ice, or a 40-year old woman.”

Several years ago, tournament organizers started naming the competition divisions after family and friends of players who passed away from cancer, a poignant touch that has been embraced by the participants. New nominations are accepted every year, so the division names change every year. King said nominations are still being accepted.

To make a nomination, please contact Kristi King at kking@superrink.org. Provide the name, together with your background story.


Many teams sport pink uniforms, worn once a year at the Stick it to Cancer tournament.

Stick it to Cancer organizers have set an ambitious fund-raising goal for the next two years.

“Our goal is to bring our total donation up to $1 million by 2018,” she says. “To get to that goal, we need everyone to be a part of it. Not just hockey players, but community members.

“We need money; we need donations; we need supporters.”

Funds come from several sources.

Teams are encouraged to fund raise extra donations on their own, and many teams take up the challenge to win the fund raising race.

The perennial fund raising challenge winner is the group from the Olson Fish Company Elks, in Elk River. This year, the Elks are playing with two teams, both at the U-19 level. For the Elks players, the Stick it to Cancer tournament is an annual tradition; many have been playing since they were 10 year olds.

“If you ask the players, this is the most fun they have all year,” says team leader and coach Chris Dorff. “They always have fun. They know they can make a difference, and they rally around each other as teammates, but also to help each other raise funds.”

For Dorff, it’s personal. His wife was well into a 13-year battle with breast cancer, when he first saw the tournament advertised in Let’s Play Hockey.

“I called Cheryl (Blaker, the tournament registrar) and learned the tournament was full,” Dorff recalls. “But we were in the next year, and every year since.”

The Elks raised $19,400 last year, easily winning the fund raising challenge.

Dorff’s wife lost her battle with cancer last August, so this year’s tournament will mean even more. He has three daughters, and addresses the issue directly.

“I don’t want my daughters to have to go through this.”

“The players always rallied around our family,” he says. “That’s one of the things we’ll talk about in the locker room, because my wife was a big part of this. The girls won’t need a lot of additional inspiration. They love playing hockey, and they’ll have fun because they always do.”

The Elks players solicit donations from neighbors, family and friends. Business connections too.

Dorff is president of the Olson Fish Company, North America’s largest purveyor of herring and lutefisk. He notes that one of his suppliers in Norway has made a sizable donation.

“He lost his mother to breast cancer, and made a donation,” says Dorff.

Another unique aspect to the tournament is that the referees and supporting officials work for free, essentially donating their fees to increase the cancer donation.


The Stick it to Cancer tournament is one event when winning isn't the most important thing.

“It’s amazing that you have referees who get $50, $60 a game, and they donate that to the cause,” says King. “It’s really touching. A lot of people want to do it for the cause, whether it’s for their wives or mothers, or daughters one day.”

A silent auction will raise additional funds.

Tournament registration is still open, and King is hoping to eventually have 48 women’s teams and 48 youth girls’ teams.  Divisions are offered for girls’ U8 up to U19, and for women’s A, B, C and College.

When teams arrive this year, there will be several new features. Games will start Friday evening, but for the first time, all teams will take a break to participate in an “Opening Ceremony” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The ceremony will be followed by a Celebrity Game at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday. King, who played college hockey at Bemidji State, and currently coaches the Centennial High School girls’ team, is well connected within the women’s hockey world.

“We’re working to recruit as many division I college players as we can for the Celebrity Game,” King says.

Click here to watch a video of the 2016 Stick it to Cancer tournament, including a segment of the tournament staff taking a tour of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, to see how the donated funds are being used:

“It’s amazing that you have referees who get $50, $60 a game, and they donate that to the cause,” says King. “It’s really touching. A lot of people want to do it for the cause, whether it’s for their wives or mothers, or daughters one day.”

A silent auction will raise additional funds.

Tournament registration is still open, and King is hoping to eventually have 48 women’s teams and 48 youth girls’ teams.  Divisions are offered for girls’ U8 up to U19, and for women’s A, B, C and College.

When teams arrive this year, there will be several new features. Games will start Friday evening, but for the first time, all teams will take a break to participate in an “Opening Ceremony” at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The ceremony will be followed by a Celebrity Game at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday. King, who played college hockey at Bethel University, and currently coaches the Centennial High School girls’ team, is well connected within the women’s hockey world.

“We’re working to recruit as many division I college players as we can for the Celebrity Game,” King says.

Click here to watch a video of the 2016 Stick it to Cancer tournament, including a segment of the tournament staff taking a tour of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, to see how the donated funds are being used:

Click here for more information on the tournament, including registration:

 

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