Casey Strale continues to inspire local California hockey community
An avid ice and roller youth roller hockey player whose incredible work ethic and sportsmanship placed him above his peers, Casey lived his life with a smile on his face, even while fighting the terrible disease that ultimately claimed his life.
His courageous battle against seemingly all odds galvanized the entire Southern California hockey community.
Six years after his passing, Casey’s legacy lives on through a pair of charity hockey fundraising events — the Give Blood Play Hockey tournament in the fall and Casey’s Cup Three-on-Three Ironman tournament in the spring.
Both events continue to set records in terms of funds collected for cancer research, treatment and quality of life.
The latest Casey’s Cup Ice Man tournament, held April 13 at The Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena facility in Irvine, nearly doubled the amount raised from the previous event held in 2017 with $78,813 committed to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of the City of Hope, through The Casey Strale Foundation.
“We could not be more grateful for all our players, vendors, food trucks, musicians, donations, sponsors and awesome volunteers,” Traci Strale acknowledged. “Then to our surprise Eddie Hawkins, the general manager of The Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena, donated the rinks to the cause.”
The Strales estimated that more than 1,500 attendees participated in this year’s event, which had the distinction of being the first charity tournament held at the new facility.
The Strales noted that an exciting addition to this year’s line-up was the Alumni Division comprised of four teams of former NHL players.
“John Blue, former Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres goaltender, and Rick Hutchinson, director of hockey at The Rinks-Anaheim ICE, have been great in helping us make this division happen,” Chris Strale said.
Tournament directors created a special division for Give Blood Play Hockey board member Dale Quayle, father of tournament co-founder Mary Quayle Korus, who brought in six teams to compete in the Antiques Division (won by The Has-Beens).
“We also had amazing support from NXT Level Hockey which brought in 12 teams from Yorba Linda,” Traci Strale added.
The Strales noted they actually had to turn away more 16 teams due to time constraints.
The impressive guest list included NHL Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree, who made the trek from his home in suburban San Diego, to speak at the event.
O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL, sat down with veteran Anaheim Ducks play-by-play announcer Steve Carroll for 20 minutes to talk on the power of perseverance, hard work and discuss the strength of the hockey community.
“When I got the invitation, I was really happy,” explained O’Ree, 83, who has served in an ambassador’s role with the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone program for 27 years. “I really wanted to come up here and take part in this.”
Carroll, who celebrated his 20th season with the Ducks in 2018-19, noted that O’Ree’s back-story included “a lot of adversity, a lot of obstacles” in his career, perhaps not so much different than what Casey went through while battling cancer.
O’Ree noted that Casey epitomized the same work ethic that he embraced in overcoming a serious injury that left him blind in his right eye and ultimately allowed him to make history on Jan. 18, 1958, when he suited up for the Boston Bruins.
“He loved hockey, he worked hard, he persevered,” the iconic O’Ree said of Casey. “When cancer took him at 16, he was too young.”
O’Ree and Carroll received applause from attendees at the close of their inspirational talk that ended with Carroll reading from a tournament program biography on Casey.
“Live every day with passion and share that passion with others,” Carroll read aloud. “Give more than you take. When in doubt, smile or laugh as Casey did. Take care of those closest to you. Be yourself and live your life with grace. We know that Casey did that.”
O’Ree signed autographs and posed for photos with attendees. “I had a wonderful time,” he said.
A total of 143 games took place on game day at the popular cross-ice tournament (played three-on-three with a goaltender and a maximum of five skaters on each team’s roster).
Teams vied for championships in 13 sub-divisions: Squirt Rec, Squirt Elite, Mite, Pee Wee Rec, Pee Wee Elite, Bantam Rec, Bantam Elite, Midget 16U, Midget 18U, Adult A, Adult B, Alumni and the Antiques Division.
Among the division champions were the Enforcers (Bantam Rec), Jr. Ducks (Bantam Elite), Goon Squad (Midget 18U), Team Niko (Adult A), Casey’s Wings (Adult B) and Team Bieska (Alumni).
“The venue at The Great Park Ice was beautiful,” Traci Strale underscored. “The raffle and silent auction donations surpassed any other year and the NHL Alumni Division was an huge attraction. Willie O’Ree spoke about overcoming diversity and our youngest, Kyle, and the Casey’s Wings Team won their adult division.
“It was busy, crazy — some call it organized chaos — but we call it a whole lot of love. The hockey community is amazing and our volunteers are simply amazing.”
The event was held on April 13 because 13 was Casey’s jersey number, his mother noted.
“We are looking forward to next year and are currently discussing dates with Eddie Hawkins,whose kind support made our planning seamless,” Traci Strale said.
For more information on The Casey Strale Foundation and TGen, or how to make a donation, visit https://www.facebook.com/caseyscup/ and https://www.tgen.org/giving/celebration-of-life/special-funds/casey-strale-acc-research-fund/.
— Phillip Brents
(June 10, 2019)