by Joe Tasca on 12/09/12 at 07:00 AM ET
As hockey fans and pundits lament the latest collapse in NHL labor talks, the struggle of Chris Kushneriuk provides us all with a much-needed reality check:
Kushneriuk, a 25-year-old pro from Gloucester — he turns 26 on Christmas Eve — is in the fight of his life. In June, after finishing out the 2011-12 ECHL season with Bakersfield, Kushneriuk learned, to his horror, that the gnawing pain in his side was from testicular cancer, and not a routine case.
Hockey players live in constant pain, but the discomfort Kushneriuk had dismissed as just more bumps and bruises, was a disease now settling in to his liver and lymph nodes. In the span of six months, cancer took Kushneriuk on a journey that would test his will, reaffirm his devout religious beliefs, and today lead him to the Indiana University Cancer Center and the care of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, best known for treating American cyclist Lance Armstrong’s testicular cancer.
For months, I've tried to present the loyal readers of Kukla's Korner with articles and commentary focusing on the athletes, teams, and leagues that are actually playing hockey this season. I think it's a worthwhile endeavor because, in my opinion, pining over the absence of multi-millionaires, many of whom are enjoying lavish vacations during this work stoppage, is insulting to the thousands of kids playing college and major junior hockey all over the continent, not to mention the veteran minor-leaguers who are still riding the bus every weekend, hoping they'll one day get a chance to play at the highest level.
Chris Kushneriuk's battle with cancer provides us all with some much-needed perspective. In the grand scheme of things, it simply doesn't matter if the NHL lockout ends anytime soon. It doesn't matter if Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman hold dueling press briefings every week for the next three months. It doesn't matter if Alexander Ovechkin stays in Russia or if Sidney Crosby goes to Sweden. It doesn't matter if hockey fans have no Stanley Cup playoffs to watch this spring.
The fate of the 2013 NHL season will more than likely be determined over the next few weeks. During that time, Chris Kushneriuk will begin a series of stem cell treatments, followed by several high-dose chemotherapy sessions. As he embarks on his fight, Kushneriuk says his ultimate goal is to resume his playing career at some point:
“I might not be the same player after I get back from all these treatments, but mentally I’ll be stronger than I’ve ever been,” he says. “The fire still burns in me to play hockey, it’s not a passion I’m going to let go of.”
For those of us who don't watch football, today will be yet another fall Sunday without NHL hockey on television. Some hockey fans have gotten used to it, while others continue to howl like prairie wolves, chastising the players and the owners at every turn, as if they're being deprived of vital sustenance. For the bitter fans, the urge to vilify the usual suspects will intensify in the coming weeks. When that urge comes, it wouldn't be a bad idea to think of Chris Kushneriuk.
It's just a game.
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About Tasca's Take
Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.
Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.