It was perhaps a small gesture, but it came in the biggest of moments.
As the Red Deer Rebels hit the ice Tuesday against the Saskatoon Blades, there were just a few minutes where anyone might have noticed a difference with the players.
The flowing locks that many among the group loved to sport were gone– instead replaced with uniform, military-like shaved heads, all for a cause much bigger than themselves.
The players decided on Sunday that they would shave their heads in support of Christine, assistant coach Brad Flynn’s fiancée, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last April.
“It was a shock because she was 30 and even when we saw the preliminary results, doctors were kind of skeptical because of her age. They thought the chances were very low. She ended up being diagnosed,” said Flynn.
“So we’ve just been dealing with it since then. She’s on the road to recovery. She had chemotherapy and has radiation coming up.”
— Flynner (@BMF14) August 22, 2019
She had just started with chemotherapy this summer and wasn’t feeling up to attending the team’s kickoff barbecue on Monday, but when she did, a group of teenagers she barely knows all showed up with buzzcuts in support.
“I talked to (Dawson Barteaux) and (Ethan Sakowich) about it, they said (Christine) was the reasoning behind it. I was touched,” Flynn said.
“For a lot of people, I think it’s easy to forget when you’re a teenage boy, how important your hair is because it’s about status and profile. So for me, it might seem like a small thing, I do know the sacrifice these kids made to do that.
“That’s what meant the most to me and Christine. She wasn’t even going to come to the function because she’s a little self-conscious. Then she had 25 teenage boys that wanted to make her feel included and really raised her spirits.”
Alternate captain Ethan Sakowich, who scored the Rebels’ game-winning goal in their first home win of the 2019-20 season Tuesday, said it was an easy decision to shave their heads and the whole team bought in almost immediately.
“I think it showed even (Tuesday) we played more as a team. Some small thing we can do, it means the world to Flynner and his family,” Sakowich said.
“Me and (Dawson Barteaux) were talking the night before, it was a spur of the moment, we were joking that we should get buzzcuts. Then we decided we should do it for a reason and we should get the whole team behind it. Once we found the reason, it was the perfect reason.”
Tonight we had our @Rebelshockey kick off bbq. Thursday will be Christine’s third chemo treatment. To be honest around noon she texted me and wasn’t feeling “up to it”. 2 pm practice our players show up with “new haircuts”. We may have a young team, but special men! #ThankYou pic.twitter.com/3OeX2e0cFg
— Flynner (@BMF14) October 1, 2019
Sakowich, who has played 210 games in a Rebels uniform, said the gesture simply showed how much of a family both the team and the organization are.
“We’re a family here. It’s a small thing we can do, it shows our support and I’m happy we did it, I’m really proud of the guys,” Sakowich said.
Sometimes lost in the shuffle of day-to-day operations for a major junior hockey team is the fact the players are still teenagers, even if they absorb criticism or roles in the community above and beyond that scope.
“It was very touching for me and for her and it just goes to show to me the character, the culture and that Brent Sutter and the Red Deer Rebels establish here,” Flynn said.
“When I talked to Brent before he hired me, the first thing he talked about is he wants good people here– whether it’s the staff or players, I think the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the players because not a lot of teenage boys would go out of their way for someone they’ve never even talked to.”
Flynn said he’s proud of both how the team stepped up in support of his family and also of Christine, for how she’s stepped up to this challenge and faced it head-on.
“As of right now, everything seems to be trending in the right direction, so we’re just trying to stay positive,” he said.