Whether or not it’s fair, the Anaheim Ducks have developed a general reputation as NHL villains. Leading up to and during their opening game of the season, however, the Ducks did something in direct contrast to that label.
Ducks Stand Behind Katie Hawley
The Ducks gave 17-year-old Katie Hawley a night to remember and something that will provide a glimmer of joy in the midst of an unimaginably terrible predicament.
Hawley, a huge Ducks fan, has been battling recurring cancer, in the form of neuroblastoma, since she was only nine years old. She has undergone numerous blood transfusions and radiation and chemotherapy treatments. When she was diagnosed with cancer for a third time at age 16, she wanted to give up. After enduring such awful hardships, who could blame her?
Since then, the Ducks have helped reignite her spirit to fight, with her favorite player, Rickard Rakell, leading the charge. Rakell sent her a video message this past summer encouraging her to keep fighting. Rakell also surprised Katie while the latter was doing volunteer work for the Jessie Rees Foundation
—an organization dedicated to helping children fight cancer.
Katie Hawley, diagnosed with cancer a third time, told her parents she wanted to give up.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) October 4, 2017
“It was super sweet that he had time to come see a little 17-year-old girl and be as kind as he was,” Katie said of Rakell visiting her. “I’ve met a lot of celebrities, but my mom said he was the only one where my face actually turned red and I got super nervous.”
The Ducks then had Katie join them for their opening-night introductions on Oct. 5, giving her a personalized jersey with the number 21, denoting Katie’s honorary status as the team’s 21st player.
“This distracts me,” Katie said. “It gets my mind away from thinking about the cancer and how I’m sick. The Ducks have gone so far above and beyond in showing me that I do have a reason to live.”
Then the game started, and the Ducks went even further above and beyond for Katie.
Ducks’ Victory Caps Uplifting Experience for Hawley
Anaheim is facing some early-season difficulties with injuries, so has had to ice a sub-optimal lineup. That seemed to be burning the Ducks early in their contest against the Arizona Coyotes, as they trailed 4-1 midway through.
A couple of quick goals by Corey Perry and Ondrej Kase cut the deficit to 4-3 by the end of the second period. Iron-man Andrew Cogliano tied it with a little over six minutes remaining in the game. With the score deadlocked, 4-4, the stage was set for a storybook ending. And that’s exactly what Katie’s favorite player delivered.
It was none other than Rakell who notched the game-winning goal with 3:30 remaining, capping a scintillating Ducks comeback but more importantly, an emotionally uplifting evening for Katie. Her reaction, caught on TV, said it all and was fantastic to see. Even ‘Yotes fans, while surely dismayed by the game’s result, had to appreciate the emotional weight of that moment.
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) October 6, 2017
Rakell, who continues to build his resume as one of the next faces of the franchise, was thrilled to be able to deliver for his team and for Katie.
“It’s kind of a Cinderella story, I guess,” Rakell said after the comeback victory. “It couldn’t have ended any better.”
Katie’s family is grateful for anything that can help her maintain positivity in her ongoing battle.
“Having Katie’s endorphins happy and focused on something else … it takes away the desperation and the anxiety,” said Katie’s mother, Mary Kay. “It allows her to keep fighting. It really does.”
The Ducks might be labeled by many NHL fans as villains in a more superficial sense, but after seeing what they provided for Katie, it’s hard not to like them on a deeper level. They will continue to stand behind Katie as she keeps fighting on.