Frances McPhail was too young to fully understand what was going on when her mother, Joanie, battled breast cancer for the first time.
But the sophomore forward for the Niagara women's hockey team has a better appreciation of the disease these days as Joanie is now a three-time survivor.
So when the Purple Eagles host their second annual Skate for the Cure event this weekend at Dwyer Arena, it's not just some anonymous cause for which the team is raising money.
It's a bit personal.
"It was part of my family, but I wanted to get involved, too, because it's such a growing cause in the community, nationally and internationally," Frances McPhail said. "There's something we can do as a team to help out. It affects so many women."
"It hits so close to home," said junior forward Melanie Mills, one of the players who organized the weekend events. "Some of the other players know people who have had breast cancer, whether they be grandmothers or aunts. We're young but you never know if one of your teammates may get it later on."
McPhail, Mills and the rest of the Purple Eagles will be wearing pink skate laces and have pink ribbon decals on their helmets for games with Bemidji State on Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.) to honor those who have survived and remember those who have passed on.
Half of all ticket sales will go toward the fundraising effort. Additionally, a raffle will take place on both days and donations will be accepted.
The Skate for the Cure initiative encompasses all four teams in College Hockey America (Niagara, Mercyhurst, Wayne State and Robert Morris) with the host school of the conference tournament deciding which organization will be the beneficiary of the campaign.
Since Niagara is hosting the CHA tourney this March, the Purple Eagles have chosen the local group Hope Chest to receive the entirety of the league's fundraising. Hope Chest is a dragon boat team made up entirely of women who are breast cancer survivors. Dragon boats are long, slim open boats powered by single blade paddles. Boats can be as small as eight people and as big as 120 with the international standard for competition 20.
Hope Chest's mission is to help women understand they can lead full, active lives despite the physical limitations of breast cancer.
The complementary goals of cancer awareness and power through sports makes Hope Chest a perfect partner for the hockey team's community outreach program.
"It's something we didn't expect when we started but it's been great," McPhail said of the partnership with Hope Chest. "They've been looking to partner with a female sports team and for us, to know there are so many women who survived it out there and haven't given up is inspiring. To see them come together as a group, doing something so physically demanding is so inspirational."
"The team has really embraced it," head coach Margot Page said. "It's something they take pride in. They want to get better every year and raise more money. It's a big thing for our team and anytime you can help in the community, especially for us a cause that's very female-directed, it's great for us."