Canisius hockey twosome displays teamwork that saves lives - The Buffalo News

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Canisius hockey twosome displays teamwork that saves lives

It was an email he could have easily deleted and in another time and place, he probably would have quickly sent it to the cyber trash.

But this was different.

This was family, in a manner of speaking.

Instead of glossing over the email, Nate Lull was struck by the request to visit the website for the marrow donation organization Be The Match. It took him five minutes to register.

Now a year later, Lull is preparing to give a blood stem cell donation. Turns out he is a match for a person fighting leukemia.

And it’s all because Canisius College sophomore Chris Rumble shared his story.

Lull, in his fourth season as the play-by-play broadcaster for the Canisius hockey team, remembers getting an email from Rumble about this time last year. The defenseman and digital media arts major at Canisius had just been cleared to play for the Golden Griffins after recovering from his own battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

Rumble’s music video featuring pediatric cancer patients went viral, and he had shared his story with several media outlets. Around the time of the publicity he sent an email encouraging people to register with Be The Match. The organization, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, helps manage and facilitate the largest and most diverse marrow registry.

As seems typical for Rumble, he has only a vague recollection of sending out the email. He’s open about his story. Playing the part of advocate for marrow donation comes naturally to him. It’s part of his identity and so he sometimes forgets the details amid the bigger picture.

But the suggestion to become registered as a potential marrow donor made a lasting impression on Lull. He signed up at the website. Next step – take some swabs of the inside of his cheek and send them back to the organization. Then came a series of phone calls where he was a possible match. Then a probable match.

The only people he told were Rumble and his father, Jim.

“I tried to just keep it to myself,” Lull said. “I kept thinking that it was going to go away, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I was so excited to help.

“I think the most exciting thing for me is with my mom passing away from cancer in 2012, I spent a lot of time in that hospital environment,” Lull said of his mother, Osceola. “My mom was probably the strongest person I know, and I saw her fight through a lot of good days and a lot of bad days. You spend a lot of time hoping that you could have the power to change something. And this I felt gave me power to help somebody, that somewhere in the U.S. some family was sitting there saying we need a miracle essentially for this to even have a chance.”

But the family reasons for Lull extended beyond bloodlines. A native of Gilbertsville, near Oneonta, he calls the Canisius hockey program his Buffalo family, one that made making the decision to help out a cause so close to Rumble an easy one.

The atmosphere that coach Dave Smith has created around the team “made me feel comfortable doing it and sharing with them,” Lull said. “I wanted to do it for my own reasons with my mother, but at the same time, it was also being part of the Griffs family. It was something I wanted to do for them. I’m almost not surprised it happened because such good things happen around that group.”

It should be no surprise either that the turn of events was put in motion by Rumble. The Seattle native is gregarious and loquacious. He will talk to anyone, in any level of detail, about his experience with leukemia, his time in the hospital, his experience with finding a marrow donor. But in a year and a half at Canisius he didn’t only raise awareness. There’s a tangible result to sharing his story.

“Nate’s pumped and I was pumped too,” Rumble said. “It gave you a cool feeling to know that potentially we could have saved a life together. He may have never heard of Be The Match before this. It’s crazy to think that me coming here might have actually ended up saving someone’s life.”

A year later, he’s still sharing his story. And a year later, he’s making contributions on the ice for the Griffs. He played in just 14 games his freshman season, all in the second semester. By the end of the season as the Griffs were making their historic playoff run he was a bit tired, a side effect of his time in the hospital and his slightly too enthusiastic reunion with junk food.

After a summer of conditioning and a better approach to nutrition, he’s been a regular contributor as a sophomore while staring to discover more consistency. In 20 games this season he has 14 points (4 goals, 9 assists) and is a plus-1.

“I had a good summer and came in in really good shape and have maintained that throughout the year,” Rumble said. “Every game you grow a little more and get used to the speed. Now it’s almost getting to the point where I feel I can be ahead of the play instead of trying to catch up with. That’s just something that’s going to keep progressing as time goes on.”

Rumble’s progression has continued and his contributions on the power play have been key for the Griffs this season. His ability to direct that unit will be important for Canisius this weekend as it hosts Air Force tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m.

“What you see on the ice are Chris’ strengths,” said Smith, the Griffs’ coach. “He can make plays, he runs the power play, he can make a good first pass. Our motivation for Chris is just helping him in some other areas of the game. He has a terrific IQ and now that his fitness level and his body have come back, I think we’re seeing some special things from an offensive defenseman.”


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