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Hockey Fights Cancer stirs memories of loved ones for Sabres

Chad Johnson has always had a red maple leaf painted on the back of his goalie mask. Through the years, he's added initials of loved ones who have passed away.

Johnson is up to five now, including four who died from cancer.

"Eventually, I'll have to get a bigger maple leaf, unfortunately," the Buffalo Sabres goaltender said.

Johnson's tribute took on added importance Saturday as the Sabres took part in the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative. Johnson showed off the mask with the initials of his late grandfathers, Alex Laslow and Gilbert Johnson, and his uncles, Frank Laslow, Kelly Johnson and Larry Johnson.

Frank Laslow died of multiple sclerosis, while the other four succumbed to cancer.

"All fairly young," Johnson said. "Everybody in this world has somebody that's been affected unfortunately by it. It's definitely that type of month to really reflect and bring awareness to it."

In addition to raising money and awareness, Hockey Fights Cancer allows players, coaches and fans to fondly recall their late friends and relatives.

Buffalo coach Phil Housley smiled while remembering his childhood. His father, LeRoy, would drive Housley's brother to games. The future coach would hop in the car with his mother, MaryLee, for his rides to the rink. She was a vocal supporter during games.

"I still remember her ringing the cowbell back in the day," Housley said in KeyBank Center. "She loved to come to the games, and she was a great person to lean on."

MaryLee Housley died of brain cancer in 2000 at age 59. She missed the defenseman's appearance in the 2002 Olympics, his Hockey Hall of Fame induction and his rise up the coaching ranks.

"She died at a young age, so it's really important to recognize this cause," Housley said. "It's a great cause, and we're still fighting."

The Sabres will honor Hockey Fights Cancer Night by wearing purple warmup jerseys that will be auctioned to benefit their foundation. They will sell autographed hats to benefit Roswell Park Cancer Institute. All fans attending the game against Carolina will receive a purple scarf co-branded with logos of the Sabres and the Courage of Carly Fund.

Formerly known as Carly's Club, the Courage of Carly Fund helps children at Roswell Park.

"Cancer affects everyone," Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella said. "I'm no exception. I lost my dad a couple years ago. It's a special night for me."

Francesco Scandella died in December 2015. Born in Italy, he moved to Quebec to find work. He also found a wife and started a family.

"I just think about him every day," Scandella said. "He taught me everything I know. He was just a great example for me on how to be a man. I just take that with me and I just play with that every game and try to make him proud.

"It's a terrible disease. That's why it's great to have this month to try to find a cure and do everything we can."

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