For the love of the game

Casey Strale battles on the floor and off.

By Jeremy Ellis

On Tuesday July 17 2012, there were 6 division finals here in San Jose.  None of which were more exciting than the Bantam Silver final between the KIHA Warriors and the 949 Anarchy.  The game went down to the wire and into overtime where a pretty one timer by KIHA to win it set off a massive celebration for boys from Hawaii.  One would expect a dejected bunch from the Anarchy while coming this close to Gold, but in this case, the boys were playing for more than just a gold medal.

In 2009 Shane McMahan and his best friend Casey Strale entered a team into an Ironman tournament.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, an Ironman requires a team to play with no subs, the same players on the floor for the entire game.  To say its a game for those with extreme stamina is an understatement.  Casey Strale was known around the Irvine facility ‘The Rinks’ as a player with that required stamina.  Most of all he was known for his passion for the sport of hockey.  It was his favorite thing to do and you could often find him honing his game at all hours of the day.  His work ethic was magnetic: “He is the first one at the rink and his love of hockey is what makes everyone love him,” said his coach Dave Cairns.

It was at this Ironman tournament that Casey began to feel more winded than before.  His usual reserve of stamina was wearing out and he found himself worn out by the end of games.  Concerned that Casey had come down with a bug or virus, 949′s Samantha Willard recommended he head to the doctor and make sure it was nothing serious.  Casey headed to see a doctor that following Tuesday, and what he was told was nothing short of serious.  Casey had Cancer.  His casual Tuesday visit to doctor led to surgery that following Friday.  A golf ball sized tumor had grown rapidly to the size equal a baseball.  In surgery, the diagnoses was grave, with Casey being one of the only patients at the Childrens Hospital of Orange County to ever be on life support and live.  The same resolve that Casey displayed on the rink against the opposition was now going to battle against the toughest opponent that he ever laced up against.

Hockey was everything to Casey.  In fact, if not for hockey and the lost stamina noticed at the 2009 tournament. Casey may have never made that fateful trip to the doctors office.  While undergoing treatment and chemotherapy, Casey accompanied his teammates to the 2011 NARCh finals in Florida.  There, Casey apologized to his team for only being able to take 30 second shifts.  All that mattered to everyone was that he was skating again.

Every fall the Give Blood, Play Hockey tournament takes place at The Rinks.  Numerous causes are benefited, including the Childrens Hospital.  The hockey community in Orange County is a tight knit one and always there to lend a helping hand.  From the seed of an idea by High School student Mary Quayle to the continued direction and dedication of her father Dale Quayle, the Give Blood tournament has grown every year and continues to raise money.  In fact coach Cairns has a ‘Give Blood, Play Hockey’ junior team competing here at the 2012 Finals.  The organization has dedicated itself to people like Casey who share the passion for hockey and need the assistance.

In the spring of this year Samantha Willard and Eddie Limbaga began to hear that Casey wanted to try and get a team together for this years finals. After another surgery in March, Casey started skating again at the rink and was up to 30 minutes of continuous skating.  It is necessary to qualify to participate, so they needed to hurry to get something together for the Escondido qualifier.  They did; that meant the  next goal was Finals.

With a team made up of Casey’s friends and players from his high school, the Anarchy embarked on a journey through a 14 team division.  When the dust of the round robin and playoffs settled, the Anarchy found themselves in the Gold Medal game against the KIHA warriors from Hawaii.  For the Anarchy, the joy was in the journey.  They shared in Casey’s love of the game and while winning the Gold would be great, the bigger prize was the smile on the face of Casey every time he came off the rink.  On this day the Warriors would hoist the trophy.  While the Warriors equipment littered the floor in euphoria, the scrappy and resilient Anarchy lined up to receive their silver medals with smiles on.  “The success was that we were even here. We didn’t even need to win a game to be successful,” said coach Cairns. “I am the luckiest coach here because of those guys.”

At the present Casey continues to battle his cancer.  He continues his treatment, meanwhile his doctors have continued to give their blessing to be able to play hockey. The same passion that he displays competing in every shift helps him in his everyday battle.  Sometimes winning Gold isn’t the worst thing in the world.  For Casey Strale his gold medal was just getting the chance to play.

For more information on the Casey Strale story, visit http://www.causescalendar.com/blog/?p=734