Dr. Tony Finelli
Dr. Tony Finelli, surgical oncologist, has participated in Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer since its inaugural year in 2011. (Photo: The PMCF)

​​​They're doctors by day, hockey heroes by night.

Drs. Marcus Bernardini, Peter Ferguson, Tony Finelli, David Jaffray, and Allan Okrainec from University Health Network (UHN) are getting ready with their teams to participate in Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer (RHCC) supporting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. The fifth annual fundraising event will be held on Sept. 26, 2015.

Patients and hospital staff may recognize this world-class team of doctors in their scrubs and lab coats, but in their off time, they're lacing up to conquer cancer.

Since its inauguration, RHCC has raised more than $11.3 million. As a road hockey tournament, RHCC invites teams of eight to 12 players to play a minimum of five games. Customized team divisions based on skill, age and industry allow players to meet and network, making for the best game day experience.

Beyond supporting cancer research, one of RHCC's fundraising incentives is its celebrity draft: top fundraising teams are able to recruit a prominent celebrity to play with them. More than 300 celebrities from across Canada have supported and participated in RHCC including Paul Henderson, former NHL player and cancer survivor.​

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'If you can hold a stick then you can play'

Image of Finelli Team
Dr. Tony Finelli (fourth from L) and the Mighty Docs team. (Photo: The PMCF)​

"My experience at Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer is always so positive," says Dr. Finelli, surgical oncologist and genitourinary site leader at the Princess Margaret. He has captained his Mighty Docs team since RHCC's inaugural year.

"What I remember the most each year is the phenomenal people I meet and the many emotions that people experience on Game Day," he adds. "Cancer is real and affects everyone in some way. I am honoured to be a part of this event and to contribute what I can to support our patients – we are going to win against cancer!"

Though the RHCC event has a passionate and meaningful cause, the atmosphere itself is relaxed and supportive.

Image of Marcus Bernardini
Dr. Marcus Bernardini will be at the 2015 RHCC event with his team, Ovarian Blitzers. (Photo: The PMCF)

"The misconception of RHCC is that you have to be a great hockey player," says Dr. Bernardini, surgical oncologist with the Princess Margaret's gynecologic site group. 

"If you can hold a stick then you can play, and all of us have a little hockey inside. I have yet to meet a single person who participated in this great event who didn't say it was entirely worth it."

Like Dr. Finelli, Dr. Bernardini has also participated in the RHCC tournament since its inaugural year. As friendly competitors, the two surgeons are usually neck and neck for one of the top fundraising spots. Not ones to be left behind, Drs. Ferguson, Jaffray and Okrainec's teams are hard at work to challenge them for 2015.

Getting ready for RHCC 2015

Image of Okrainec and team Blades of Steel
Dr. Allan Okrainec has been captain of Blades of Steel since 2014. (Photo: The PMCF)

After hearing of the legendary battles between Drs. Bernardini, Ferguson, Finelli and Jaffray on game day, Dr. Okrainec signed up as a RHCC team captain last year to challenge the reigning UHN hockey heroes. As Head of the Division of General Surgery at UHN, it was only natural that Dr. Okrainec named his team Blades of Steel.

Recalling his first experience at the 2014 RHCC event, Dr. Okrainec has nothing but compliments.

"RHCC was one the highlights of 2014 for me," he says.

"As someone who loves hockey, it was great to be part of a team with the common goal of raising money for such an important cause supporting cancer research at UHN."

He is hoping that other UHN staff members will register for RHCC in 2015.

Domi McKay and Okrainec
Dr. Allan Okrainec (R) stands with cancer survivor Scott McKay (second from R) and former Toronto Maple Leafs player Tie Domi (L). (Photo: The PMCF)

A uniquely Canadian challenge to all UHN staff

Image of Ferguson with Tyler
Dr. Peter Ferguson, surgical oncologist, shares the stage with patient Tyler McGregor at the 2014 RHCC Opening Ceremonies. (Photo: The PMCF)

"Road hockey is quintessentially Canadian," says Dr. Ferguson, surgical oncologist and sarcoma site leader at the Princess Margaret.

"Helping others in need is a huge part of the Canadian fabric. RHCC gives us the unique opportunity to blend these two important Canadian activities."

At RHCC 2014, Dr. Ferguson spoke and shared the stage with his former patient Tyler McGregor at Opening Ceremonies. After losing his left leg to cancer, Tyler continued to pursue his hockey dreams and played for Canada in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.

"Everyone is touched by cancer and every Canadian knows about hockey," Dr. Ferguson adds. "What better way to bring the two together. I participate to help not only my own patients but all patients with cancer."

RHCC also invites UHN staff members to bring along their families and loved ones.

"I felt enormous pride last year with my 16-year-old son participating for the first time and seeing the same feeling instilled in him when it comes to helping others," says Dr. Ferguson. "I wish everyone could feel that same degree of pride, that participating in RHCC with friends and family brings."

Dr. Jaffray, head of radiation physics at the Princess Margaret and Director of TECHNA Institute, echoes Dr. Ferguson's thoughts on hockey's Canadian spirit.

"There is nothing more Canadian than playing hockey," he says, a passionate fan of the sport. "RHCC is a great opportunity to raise funds for our fight against cancer."

All STTARR Rink Rats
Dr. David Jaffray (second from R) and Dr. Bradly Wouters (eight from R) and the All STTARR Rink Rats with hockey legend Darryl Sittler (six from L).

​Dr. Jaffray has participated in the RHCC tournament since its inaugural year with his team, All STTARR Rink Rats. STTARR provides a platform for cutting-edge multidisciplinary imaging technology research.  Princess Margaret Cancer Centre's (interim) research director, Dr. Bradly Wouters, is an active player on this team. They both enjoy the event because of its meaningful cause and strong sense of team spirit.

Of course, a little bit of friendly competition never hurts. 

"It's also fun to face-off in a friendly battle with many friends and colleagues here at UHN. I'm challenging everyone at UHN to dig their old hockey sticks out of the garage and come raise some money for the cause!" says Dr. Jaffray.

Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer in support of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre will be held on Sept. 26, 2015. To register or learn more, please e-mail Breanne Halyk (Breanne.Halyk@thepmcf.ca) or visit www.teamuptoconquercancer.ca.​

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