Anderson takes leave to support wife’s cancer battle

AP Photo
AP Photo
AP Photo

By Bry McDermott | Asst. Photo Editor

Hockey players are taught that playing through pain is what makes you the best. Bumps, bruises, broken bones and lost teeth can’t keep them out of the game, but none of that compares to what Ottawa Senators’ goaltender Craig Anderson continues to endure.

Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, was recently diagnosed with cancer, but the couple is inspiring millions with their strength through tough times.

After his wife’s diagnosis, Anderson took a leave of absence from the National Hockey League to stand by Nicholle as she went through more tests, but she urged him to return after Ottawa’s backup goalie, Andrew Hammond, sustained a groin injury.

Anderson’s comeback was a moment that will forever be remembered in hockey history.

Tears streamed down the 35-year-old’s face as he was announced as the game’s No. 1 star of the night after shutting out the red hot Edmonton Oilers 2-0, making 37 saves on Hockey Fights Cancer night at Rogers Rink.

The crowd gave the netminder a long standing ovation as he made a victory lap and wiped away the tears.

Some things are bigger than hockey, and this is one of those things.

Anderson took a second leave of absence to return to Nicholle in Florida, where the couple resides during the offseason, but returned last Saturday, wearing Nicholle’s favorite number (23) on a special Hockey Fights Cancer jersey during warmups against the Buffalo Sabres. It is unclear how long he plans to remain with the team.

The truth is, cancer is one of the scariest words to hear, and unfortunately, almost everyone has been affected by the terrible disease in some way.

According to the American Cancer Society, there were approximately 14.5 million people living with cancer in the United States, and the lifetime probability of developing the terrible disease is 1 in 2 for men and 1 in 3 for women.

Pittsburgh sports are no stranger to the word, either.

Penguins owner Mario Lemieux is a cancer survivor, along with forward Phil Kessel and defenseman Olli Maatta.

Anderson made the right choice to step away from the game to be with Nicholle; nobody would say otherwise. No matter how much you love a sport, family will always come first.

Hockey players are tough, but Anderson is tougher. I commend him for his strength, not only on the ice, but off as well. Cancer doesn’t just affect the one with the illness, but everyone around them.

As someone who has personally seen a loved one go through this disease, I believe that having that support system is essential.

Nicholle has that support, not just from her husband and their two sons, but from the entire hockey community. After her diagnosis was announced by the Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion, an outpouring show of support came for Nicholle from players, franchises and fans all across the league and its lower levels.

I think everyone can learn a lot from Craig and Nicholle. Their actions have provided examples of strong character, courage and hope in the face of extreme adversity.

Cancer survival rates are the highest they have ever been in history. According to the American Cancer Society, between 2005 and 2011, there was a 69 percent chance of survival over all types of cancer, a hopeful increase from the 49 percent recorded in 1975-77.

There is always hope, and I wish Craig and Nicholle the best as they continue their battle.

And a reminder to everyone, in the words of NBC Sports broadcaster and cancer survivor Mike “Doc” Emrick: “Every day is a blessing.”