Paul Dufour and Jeff Nawalany at the 2019 Play For A Cure. (Photo courtesy of Play For A Cure on Facebook)

Hockey tournament almost triples goal; benefits cancer research

When Jeff Casey organized the first Play For A Cure tournament, he hoped he would raise $100,000 for local cancer research projects and patient care.

He did, and then some.

On Wednesday, the survivor of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma announced the event last March raised $284,936.33.

Last March 28 and 29, eight teams competed to see who could raise the most money for the chance to play alongside NHL alum like Adam Graves, Todd Warriner, and Marty McSorley. The most successful team received the top pick during a draft event at Caesars Windsor, and the next day hit the ice at the Vollmer Culture and Recreation Complex.

Casey said the event was more successful than he could have imagined.

“You talk to the guys about the idea, and they say, ‘yeah, yeah, that sounds fine,'” he said, remembering the response from the players. “After the event — the response was that I got from everyone was like, ‘I thought it would be fun, but I didn’t think it would be that awesome.'”

Casey’s contacts in the NHL grew after he attended a fantasy hockey camp hosted by former NHL star Mario Lemieux, himself a survivor of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

“I was able to see first-hand what he has done to help cancer research,” Casey recalled. “I went for a tour of the hospital in Pittsburgh, meet some of the researchers and see some of the programs that he started, and it kind of inspired me.”

Alongside team captains, staff from Windsor Regional Hospital, and researchers at the University of Windsor, Casey announced the new Cancer Research Collaboration Fund.

The fund, hosted by the WindsorEssex Community Foundation, will be split up two ways. The Cancer Research Incentive Fund is a partnership with the University of Windsor that will help build local cancer research programs by funding projects still waiting for federal grant money. The University will match whatever Play For A Cure invests in the fund.

A second fund, the Cancer Research Care Grant, will be open to medical doctors who team up with researchers either at the University, St. Clair College, Windsor Regional Hospital, or the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre. The money will support prevention initiatives, diagnosis, treatment, and patient care.

“I’m a cancer survivor, and I’ve gotten to know the cancer research layout of our region,” explained Casey. “We have some tremendous researchers and some incredible oncologists and physicians at the hospital. I really want to support them in the work that they do. This will be creating opportunities for them to work together, which I think will yield the best results.”

Already, Casey is planning the second annual event next March at Caesars Windsor and the Vollmer Culture and Recreation Complex.

“I think we’re going to do an NHL All-Star game where we have all of our NHL alumni along with some other NHL alumnus that we haven’t yet secured but are in talks with,” he said.

The second annual Play For A Cure tournament is scheduled for March 26 and 27.