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Canisius hockey’s Rumble draws strength from cancer fight

Chris Rumble likes visual reminders.

The profile picture on his Facebook page features a triumphant Robert Morris team skating past him as they celebrated last year’s Atlantic Hockey championship.

It’s a reminder of what it felt like to come so close to your athletic goal and lose.

On his wrist he wears two yellow bands as another reminder, of his battle with leukemia.

It’s the dual identity for the 24-year-old Rumble – hockey player and cancer survivor. The defenseman for the Canisius Golden Griffins never tires of telling the story.

“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a million times: When I was in the hospital, I was desperately trying to find someone like me. Someone who had been through this before and was now living and playing and doing what they wanted to do. And I found nobody. No person had ever had leukemia, been through treatment, gotten out of the hospital, played Division I hockey.

“So I’ll never get sick of telling that story. I’m sure it will never escape me either. I don’t plan on ever escaping that and I don’t really want to ever escape that.”

The next hockey-loving kid who is diagnosed with leukemia will find Rumble and the layers that keep adding to the richness of his story.

He was diagnosed with leukemia just before his 22nd birthday, the spring before he was set to come to Canisius and join the hockey program.

Now in his junior year of eligibility, Rumble earned first-team All-Atlantic honors – the first for the Golden Griffins in five years and the first defenseman from the program to earn the honor in 16 years.

“He came on campus after his fourth round of chemotherapy and he was as white as the ice and as unfit as anybody should be after going through that,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “To go through that and be an all-conference player on the first team is remarkable. Everyone’s aware of it, but it’s not talked about a lot because of his demeanor, his approach. It’s about what’s the next day, the next moment. The easy answer for me is he deserves every piece of publicity and more for the journey that he’s been on the last few years.”

That doesn’t mean the journey has been easy. Not even between coach and player.

Rumble’s hockey strength has always been on the offensive blue line. He finds openings, has a great sense with the puck and creates offense while quarterbacking the power play.

But heading into this season he was trying to do too much. Backing off was difficult for Rumble, who said it took a few “verbal altercations” with his head coach to understand what was best for his game and the team’s success.

“At the start of the year I wanted to do anything and everything, and I’ve kind of settled in to understand what it’s going to take to play at the next level, what I’ll be able to do at the next level and try to perfect that here,” Rumble said. “I’m not going to take the puck end-to-end in a higher level of hockey. I’m going to be able to move the puck and be responsible in my own zone and you know, hopefully run the power play. I’m just trying to focus more on the things I do well instead of trying to take over the game in every aspect.”

Focusing on his strengths paid off on the stat sheet. Rumble enters Friday’s semifinal matchup against RIT with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists), half of which have come on the power play (four goals, six assists.) The Griffs are 11-2-3 this season when Rumble has a point.

“He can walk the blue line really well and make hard shots look easy,” said forward Ralph Cuddemi. “We really trust him with the puck back there. We put a lot of pressure on him.”

There’s his poise on the blue line during games, and then there’s Rumble in the locker room. Around the rink he has an aura of class clown.

“Oh, he’s a ball of energy,” senior captain Doug Jessey said. “Some would call him the Riverboat Gambler. … He’s kind of the mood setter. If ‘Rums’ isn’t there smiling and cracking jokes, the room is kind of down.”

“What’s it like? It’s awesome and it’s challenging and it’s fun and it’s rewarding and it’s all of those things,” Smith said. “That’s what makes Chris unique and special.”

email: amoritz@buffnews.com