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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Biggest fight happens off the ice

Simon Asher
Josh Larson, 6, poses with John and Toppie Hogan’s family during post game ceremony for the Pink the Rink game this past Saturday, Jan. 13.

While there was a hockey game going on between the University of Arizona Wildcats and the Utah Utes at the Tucson Convention Center, it was not the main story of the night. 

For the fourth year in a row, the team held their “Pink the Rink” night, where all who have battled cancer are honored and remembered, and all but a handful of Wildcat players were selected to wear custom pink jerseys. The name plate was stitched with a name that wasn’t their own, but rather someone affected by cancer. Many of the names on their jerseys hit very close to home.

It was a date circled on the calendar for many, and especially Arizona’s coaching staff, 

“It’s a way for us to reach out back to the Tucson community and the community at large,” said assistant coach Eddie LaVella following the previous night. “To be able to contribute back to a better cause and make a night something a little bit beyond a hockey game is honestly something that’s really special.” 

Big hits on the ice and goals scored left and right made fans jump out of their seats all night. Nothing, however, compared to the energy that struck the arena when players lined up for the post-game ceremony. There was both sadness for those lost to cancer and joy for those who survived, but there also was a sobering realization about the fragility of life. 

The ceremony was held to read aloud the stories behind every jersey as the respective players took theirs off and handed it to the party representing the loved one. 

Here are some of the stories from those who knew them best (all quotes were spoken by the UA hockey’s PA announcer, but it was family members — who remained private— that wrote the content). 

NO. 6 Josh Larson, “Papo” 

John and Toppie Hogan, former UA hockey players, partook in the game in a way they weren’t used to doing. Assistant coach John met Wildcat golfer Toppie, and their family, on the ice to remember their grandfather.

“Two years ago, Dale passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Just days before his passing, ‘Papo’ was honored to receive the game puck from the Wildcat’s first game and win of that season versus Northern Arizona University. This gesture from the team meant the world to him and his family. He was an inspiration and a role model to all that knew him.”

NO. 19 Justin Plumhoff, “Mom” 

Centerman Justin Plumhoff’s jersey was simply inscribed “mom,” to honor his mother who is still battling cancer — and who was even present to share the moment with him.

“Jamie [Plumhoff] lives in Ashburn, Virginia and was diagnosed just five years ago with multiple myeloma… she was treated with an induction chemotherapy, went through bone marrow transplant and is involved in a clinical trial that involves [inaudible] and daily chemotherapy. Her journey continues, though she is using her experience to help other patients and pay forward the enormous support of family and friends… she will be hiking Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon to raise much needed funds and awareness for the multiple myeloma research foundation… with this jersey we show off our everlasting love and support.” 

NO. 21 Orion Olsen, “Sanders”

Orion Olsen’s jersey was one of the few jerseys that reminded fans they were at a hockey game. His jersey celebrated the life of his great uncle, Frank Sander, who shared Olsen’s passion for the game.

“Frank [Sanders] passed away after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer, on Feb. 17, 2012. Frank was captain of the Minnesota Golden Gopher’s hockey team in 1970 and 71. We won the silver medal representing Team USA in the 1972 Winter Olympics… he played professionally for the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints and then became an ordained minister. This jersey is to honor Frank’s life and contribute to finding a cure to pancreatic cancer.” 

NO. 23 Charlie James, “Woodward”

Forward Charlie James had his jersey stitched up to read “Woodward,” the last name of his grandfather. Several family members stood with him on the ice to accept the jersey.

“Roy Woodward battled cancer with all he had. He lived each day never giving up and never giving in. He loved his family his work, his community, his boat, his Harley. He met all challenges head-on, and we know he’s watching over his grandson wearing this jersey tonight with great pleasure, with the best seat in heaven; rest easy Papa.”

NO. 25 Trey Decker, “John A Decker Jr.”

One of the final jerseys of the night was right wing Trey Decker’s. He was met by his mom on the ice, where they remembered his father John.

“John Decker, better known as Junior, was a beloved father, husband, son, brother and friend, who lost his battle with stage four melanoma cancer last March. He was first diagnosed in September of 2014 and went through treatment, and was doing well, but after a third check-up, he came back six months later and it attacked sides of his brain and bones. He always battled hard and was positive. [As written by Trey Decker] “I was privileged enough to call this man my dad and tonight I’m wearing his name on my jersey. My dad would tell me before every game: go big, or go home — which was how he lived his life. He is dearly missed.”

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