A legacy to remember
Longtime Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier’s off-the-ice passion is helping children with cancer and their families
Note: This originally appeared in Positive Impact Magazine
By Jeff Louderback
In 1998, Quebec native Vinny Lecavalier was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL Entry Draft. That, alone, would load a heap of pressure on any 18-year-old who had not played a second above the junior leagues. Expectations of greatness magnified, though, when then new Lightning owner Art Williams proclaimed that Lecavalier would become “the Michael Jordan of hockey.”
Now in his 13th season – all with the Lightning – Lecavalier has long since justified Tampa Bay’s initial investment in him. The 31-year-old center has earned an abundance of accolades – including numerous NHL All-Star Game appearances, a Stanley Cup, an Olympic Gold Medal, a World Cup Gold Medal and the Mark Messier Leadership Award. Likely bound for the NHL Hall of Fame, Lecavalier holds a host of franchise scoring records, and in 2007, he received the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer with 52 goals.
Still, the humble and affable Lecavalier will quickly tell you that any amount of pressure he has encountered and every milestone he has achieved on the ice pales in comparison to the significance of what the children and their families are tackling at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
It is here, on the seventh floor, where the 28,000-square-foot Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center strives to give hope to courageous children and their families who are fighting for survival. The Vinny Lecavalier Foundation donated $3 million for the center’s construction
“Being successful on the ice is something that every NHL player focuses on every game, but the life and death battles these children and families face puts everything in perspective,” said Lecavalier, who is married to Caroline. The couple has a daughter, Victoria (born in 2010) and a son, Gabriel (born Oct. 18, 2011). “Before I had children, I had compassion for children who are battling a serious illness, but that compassion has grown even stronger now that I am a father.
“I can only imagine how challenging it would be as a parent to have a child being treated for something as serious as cancer or a blood disorder,” he added. “Knowing how much love I have for my own children, my heart is now touched even more when I walk into the hospital and see those kids and their families.”
Opened in 2010, the center is the most monumental project to date by Lecavalier’s foundation, which is committed to helping children and families battling pediatric cancer and blood disorders, and to fund medical research, programming and pediatric patient care.
The center occupies the entire floor of the new All Children’s Hospital and features 28 individual patient rooms, capable of caring for pediatric cancer/blood disorder patients as well as those receiving blood or marrow transplants.
There are in-room accommodations for both parents to stay overnight with their child. A HEPA filtration positive pressure airflow system allows immuno-suppressed patients to move freely throughout the center instead of being restricted to patient room.
In 2011, the center projected it would perform 50 bone marrow transplants, see 125 new patients and treat 4,000 kids on an outpatient basis.
Lecavalier became involved in charitable efforts when he was a rookie in 1998. When he decided to create his foundation, which debuted in 2005, Lecavalier sought a cause on which to focus.
“We wanted the foundation to devote all of its attention to one cause, and it was tough to find one particular cause because so many are worthwhile,” Lecavalier said. “When we met the children who are fighting cancer and their families, they were in small rooms and we envisioned something better.
“It is important for the children and the families to be as comfortable as possible so they can fully concentrate on treating the cancer,” he added.
One particular visit with a three-year-old boy and his family reinforced in Lecavalier the importance of his foundation’s mission and the services provided at the center.
“The boy’s name is Will, and the first time I met him, he was scheduled to start his treatment the next day,” Lecavalier recalled. “It was in December, and he had a smile on his face as Christmas gifts were handed out.
“He had no clue about how tough it would be for him over the following months, but his family did,” he added. “I could see the tears in their eyes, treasuring the moment but also realizing the uncertainty of the weeks and months ahead.”
Lecavalier recognizes that, as a professional athlete, he is a role model who has the attention of adoring young hockey fans. He understands that, in the high-tech age where everyone has a cell phone ready to snap a photo of an athlete behaving badly, it is important that he conduct himself properly off the ice.
Growing up in Quebec, his hockey hero was Detroit Red Wings standout, NHL Hall of Famer and current Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman. Lecavalier hopes young hockey fans view him the way he looked at Yzerman.
“I admired him not only for what he did on the ice, but also who he was in life. As a player, he was a positive role model to a lot of us,” Lecavalier said. “Before he became our GM, I knew he was respected around the league as a person, and now that I know him, he is every bit the person I imagined he would be.
“He made an impact on my life as a kid, and I strive to do the same for kids who look up to me,” Lecavalier added.
After recording 52 goals and 108 points during the 2006-2007 season and capturing the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, Lecavalier saw his numbers drop over the next four seasons. Shoulder and wrist injuries contributed to his struggles. There were rumblings that Lecavalier’s days in Tampa Bay could be reaching an end, but Vinik bought the Lightning and turned around the team’s fortunes, and Lecavalier is healthy again and still an instrumental part of a club that reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
He is grateful to remain with the only team he has known in his NHL career, especially since his parents, and his sister and her children live in the Tampa Bay area. Lecavalier’s father, Yvon, is a retired firefighter who attends all of the Lightning home games.
Marriage, fatherhood and the presence of close family members have made one of hockey’s all-time greats a changed man.
“Earlier in my career, I loved the excitement of traveling from city to city, but now I look forward to the end of every road trip so I can return home and see my wife and kids, and look up in the crowd and see my parents,” Lecavalier said. “We’ve had some ups and downs here. Still, when you win a (Stanley) Cup and are in one place for 13 years, it’s special to put on a Lightning jersey and be part of everything.”
At several home games each season, Lecavalier hosts the families of children with cancer in his VIP Suite. It is an extension of his passion to make a difference illustrated by his foundation and the center.
“When they kids and their families come to the games, they are able to forget about the challenges they are facing for a little bit, and they have smiles on their faces,” Lecavalier said. “It is all part of my desire to make a lasting and favorable difference, not just as a professional athlete, but as a human being.”
For more information about The Vinny Lecavalier Foundation and the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, visit www.vinny4.com.