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September 24, 2015 | 11:22aM ET
Battling for my life
Former Toronto Maple Leafs trainer Scott McKay is helping raise awareness and money through Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer.


Tie Domi looks on as his good buddy and cancer survivor, Scott McKay, speaks to over 1,300 Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer participants. McKay, the former Leafs equipment manager, is an Honorary Chair for the event, which is heading into its 5th year in 2015.
Photo courtesy of Mike Palmer Photography

TORONTO, ON -- Crisp jerseys flying up and down the ice on razor-sharp skates. Gloves gripping a stick that's been modified specifically to the player's preferences. Helmets and masks that fit perfectly.

Occasionally, a trainer appears on the screen. They might be mentioned during a game broadcast a few times during a season, but for the most part their work is taken for granted by fans.

They are not taken for granted by the players, however.

 

There is nothing quiet about the appreciation hockey players have for the trainers who get them ready to succeed on a nightly basis. In the NHL, the trainers are part of the team as much as the coaches and players. And the bond between the men on the ice and those in the tunnel or back in the dressing room is strong.

Scott McKay was one of those who served behind the scenes, working as a trainer for the Toronto Maple Leafs until 2006. In his role with the Leafs, he was able to develop relationships with players from all over the world as they represented the franchise -- together -- on a nightly basis.

But in 2012, six years after leaving the organization, McKay found that he was the one who needed help now.

It was cancer.

The word itself draws a wide range of emotions, from depression to hate. Unfortunately, the disease has touched everyone in some way. Statistically, every three minutes another Canadian is diagnosed with cancer. From family members to coworkers, teammates or neighbors, it has become impossible to avoid being impacted by cancer.

When McKay received his diagnosis, it would change his life -- and perspective.

And the hockey community was there for him.

"We all come from hard-working backgrounds, and for the most part hockey people want to help out other hockey people," he said. "Hockey's the one sport that I've come across where pretty much every guy -- you do battle on the ice, but once the gear is off we're all the same... You've worked so hard with people, it's nice to see people coming out and doing little things that mean a lot."

Among the players who stepped up for McKay were Mats Sundin and Tie Domi, who took part in a promotional video for an organization with which McKay got involved quickly after his diagnosis, Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer.

In 2013, McKay was still very sick. But he found a way to battle through.

"My first year involved, I was actually in the hospital doing my stem cell transplant during the tournament," McKay recalled. "I wasn't sure if I would even be able to get out. I made a handshake agreement with the doctors to let me out to give my speech and fulfill my duties and then come back that day."

As he battled through the tough road to beating the disease, McKay was able to apply aspects of his role with the Leafs to the fight. But he still learned a lot about himself, and the cancer community.

"The level of intensity that it takes to work at the top level in the NHL... I put that same frame of mind into my treatments and what I was going through," he said. "I was battling for my life, but I never thought of it that way. It was a hockey mentality. Everybody goes through tough patches in life or with a job, but what makes a person is what you do when the chips are down."

McKay is now getting back to full health, and is excited to once again be a part of a tremendous event this weekend.

On Sept. 26, this coming Saturday, at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, an all-day road hockey tournament will give hundreds of fans and players a way to celebrate the game they love -- and combat a disease we all hate.

One unique aspect of the tournament is the ability for teams to take part in a celebrity draft. Dozens of former NHL and Olympic players and television personalities take part in the tournament each year. Once a team raises $15,000, they get to take part in a fantasy draft and select celebrities to play with them. The top 50 teams that raise over $15,000 will get to pick a celebrity in the draft. After the draft, celebrities are assigned to teams.

Among the celebrities scheduled to be at the event this year are Eric Lindros, Glenn Healy, Johnny Bower, Todd Shapiro, Paul Henderson, Bob Baun and Ron Ellis.

While the central component of the Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer is hundreds of road hockey games, but there will also be musical acts, celebrity appearances, interactive activities, food and beverages.

"Cancer impacts everyone eventually," McKay added. "If I can raise awareness or help people get through this by talking about my experiences, then that's what I'll do. It's a terrible disease."

Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer benefits The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. To learn more about the Foundation, visit www.pmhf.ca

For more information about the tournament and the events surrounding the road hockey games, visit www.teamuptoconquercancer.ca

Tab Bamford is a Columnist for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.

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