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Hockey teams at the Stick it to Cancer tournament were playing for a higher purpose

04/11/2017, 12:45pm CDT
By Barclay Kruse, Chief Communications Officer

Annual tournament at Schwan Super Rink raises funds to benefit breast cancer research

Blaine, Minn. (April 11, 2017) – The tone of the conversations at the 19th annual Stick it to Cancer hockey tournament at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, April 7-9, varied from passionate laughter to equally passionate tears. That’s the way it is at the one hockey tournament each year when hockey isn’t necessarily the most important thing on players’ minds.

The mission of the all-female Stick it to Cancer tournament is to raise funds, and awareness, to fight breast cancer.  And for many players, coaches and fans, it’s a personal fight.

R. J. Anderson gave a moving tribute to his mother Jody Anderson, whose battle with breast cancer was the inspiration for her friends to start the Stick it to Cancer tournament in 1999.

There’s former Gopher player R.J. Anderson, who gave an emotional tribute at the Opening Ceremony to his mother Jody Anderson, who lost her fight with breast cancer in 2000, and was the inspiration for the creation of the tournament.

Or coach Chris Dorff, who lost his wife a year ago, after she fought breast cancer for 13 years. Dorff coached two teams, winning the 19U title with one. Dorff, who has been coaching Stick it teams for years, says, “I’ll keep coaching these girls as long as they want to keep playing.”

Or Lori Jo Geshel, a breast cancer survivor, who played in the tournament four years after her original diagnosis. Her team, the Keweenaw Bay Battle Axes, drove seven hours from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.

Tournament director Kristi King, a high school coach at Centennial High School when she’s not running events at the Super Rink, thinks about one statistic when she stands up in her team’s locker room.

“One in eight women will contract breast cancer at some point in their lives,” says King. “That means two players on every team.”

Several years ago, tournament organizers started naming the competition divisions after family and friends of players who had passed away from cancer. The tournament now also honors cancer survivors. Honorees are nominated by participants in the tournament.

Fifty-eight teams played in this all-female tournament, with both youth and adult divisions offered. Teams came from Minnesota, California, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Here is the roster of champions:

Women’s B1, the Jody Anderson Division: Treasured Chest, Twin Cities.

Women’s B2, the Sue Schmidt Division: Team Wolf Pack, Twin Cities.

Women’s B3, the Kayleen Larson Division: Team Awesome, Arden Hills, Min.

Women’s C1, the Lori Jo “Flash” Geshel Division: Lady Black Stars, San Mateo, Calif.

Women’s C2, the Diane Koenig Division: Divas, North Mankato, Minn.

Women’s C3 American, the Sarah Till Division: Lawrence University, Appleton, Wis.

Women’s C3 National, the Heidi Wells Division: Dekey Girls, Prior Lake, Minn.

Women’s Collegiate, the Brittney Bobrowski Division: Hamline University, St. Paul.

Girls’ 19U, the Lori Dorff Division: Olson Fish Company Elks, Minneapolis.

Girls’ 16U, the Sara Connell Division: Premier Prep, Twin Cities.

Girls 14U, the Mama Ruthie Division: Gentry Academy, Twin Cities.

Girls’ 12U, the Cindy Koerner Division: Top Dog Hockey, Shakopee, Minn.

A group photo of the teams that paraded onto the ice at the Opening Ceremony.

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. Tournament organizers are still collecting donations, so a fund-raising total for this year’s event won’t be announced for a month of two.

“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.

“It’s rewarding to see people come together for a cause. 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.”

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.

This year’s tournament offered several new features:

Open Public Skate, with all proceeds donated to the Masonic Cancer Center.

Opening Ceremony, featuring a parade of teams, and compelling speeches by Dr. Douglas Yee, Director of the Masonic Cancer Center and R. J. Anderson, son of tournament inspiration Jody Anderson.

In Celebrity Game action, Becky Kortum of the University of Minnesota moves the puck on Lauren Barnes, from Minnesota State Mankato.

A Celebrity Game featuring ex- or current Division I and III college players from St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Minnesota State Mankato, Minnesota, Union, Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Penn State, New Hampshire, Harvard, Dartmouth, UMD, Wisconsin, Lindenwood, St. Anselm College, and Vermont.

One of the players scheduled to play in the celebrity game was Hannah Brandt, a Gopher alum, who won the gold medal for the USA Women’s National Team at the World Hockey Championship in Plymouth, Michigan the night before. Getting up early Saturday morning, Brandt had every intention of playing, until she discovered the Delta Airlines had cancelled her early flight from Detroit to Minneapolis, the lingering result of severe storms in Atlanta, their main hub, two days earlier.

Brandt sent her regrets by Facebook: “Hey everyone, I was planning on playing in the celebrity game this afternoon but unfortunately my flight out of Detroit got cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who has organized the game it should be a great event!”

Click here for a 90-second video documenting the 2017 Stick it to Cancer tournament.

Here is a photo gallery of the championship teams:

Tag(s): NSC Blog