The Hershey Bears held their annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Sunday’s game versus the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The night is dedicated to honoring those battling the disease. The Bears wore custom lavender jerseys during warmups that were auctioned off postgame, fundraising to help patients in their battles. The night also included a ceremonial puck drop and a video tribute for Bears forward Garret Roe’s mother, who passed from cancer in June.
But perhaps the most special moment from tonight’s game was when Capitals prospect Ivan Miroshnichenko scored. The goal came a year after the rookie won his own battle with the terrible disease.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) November 12, 2023
Miroshnichenko’s tally was the Bears’ only one of the game. After cutting across to the center of the ice (looking like a young Ovechkin), Miroshnichenko fired the puck past the Phantoms goaltender Nolan Maier, tying the game 1-1 for the Bears with 14:07 left in the second period.
The 2023-24 season is Miroshnichenko’s first playing professional hockey in North America. Miroshnichenko missed parts of the 2021-22 and 2022-23 campaigns in Russia due to a cancer diagnosis delivered on his 18th birthday in 2022.
Miroshnichenko had been catching the eyes of scouts and was a projected top 10 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in June. But during a routine mid-season checkup with his team, his blood test results did not come back clear, forcing him to Germany for further testing. The doctors in Germany diagnosed Ivan Miroshnichenko with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that February.
“It was a shock, initially. I couldn’t really say anything,” Miroshnichenko said to the Hershey Bears’ Jesse Liebman. “My season was going quite well and everything was going the way I had wanted.”
Instead of spending the last four months before the draft getting a final chance to show off his skills, Miroshnichenko had to undergo four brutal rounds of chemotherapy, losing his hair in the process. During this time, Miroshnichenko looked at other athletes’ journeys with the disease to help encourage himself.
“I decided that I needed to pull myself together and be positive,” Miroshnichenko said. “I read on the Internet that athletes have already defeated this disease. A Canadian snowboarder had been ill with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but he returned to sports. Now he wins and enjoys life.”
Just a week after his final treatment, Miroshnichenko walked the stage at the NHL draft after being selected 20th overall by the Capitals.
The Capitals selected Ivan Miroshnichenko at 20th overall, a former top 5 prospect who missed last season undergoing treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma.
Great to see Ivan on the stage 👏 pic.twitter.com/SpMlf8ILjC
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) July 8, 2022
Miroshnichenko spent that summer in the gym working to regain his strength after chemotherapy. By October 2022, he was cleared to return to practices with Omsk Krylia, Avangard Omsk’s VHL affiliate.
On November 6th, 2022, Ivan Miroshnichenko played in his first hockey game since his cancer diagnosis. He spent the 2022-2023 season between different teams in the Avangard Omsk organization as he re-found his game.
All the hard work for Miroshnichenko has more than paid off for him. He has seven points throughout 13 games so far in his rookie season. He has impressed his coaches with his determination not only coming back from cancer, but to adjusting to the game in America.
“First off, he’s a fighter – obviously to conquer cancer is a tremendous feat,” said Bears head coach Todd Nelson. “Now it’s a time when there’s a lot of changes for him coming over to North America. He’s learning English; he has a lot of challenges ahead of him, just being a young guy in general, playing in the American Hockey League. He’s one of the younger players in the league, he has to adapt to the style, and he’s doing a pretty good job with it.”
One of Miroshnichenko’s biggest strengths throughout his battle with cancer was his mindset. The forward never gave up hope and continued to believe that he would be back on the ice again in time. He didn’t let the adversity he faced take away his dream.
“Just keep moving forward,” Miroshnichenko said. “A lot of what my doctors told me was staying strong, not being too hard on myself, and to avoid overthinking stuff. Ultimately you have to keep moving forward.”
Headline photo: @thehersheybears/IG
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