Ice Cats, men’s ice hockey lace up for cystic fibrosis

As junior Alexa Roland laced up her ice skates Sunday afternoon, she knew being an Ice Cat at today’s men’s hockey game would be different. It would bring back memories that really hit home – memories of the death of her older sister Melissa.

Her sister Melissa passed away from cystic fibrosis when Alexa was 15. Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system that affects about 30,000 Americans, according to the Boomer Esiason Foundation website.

“I didn’t really understand it because I was so young, but once I started to get older, I understood the severity of it,” Alexa said.

On Sunday at the men’s ice hockey game against Northeastern, the Ice Cats paired up with the ice hockey team to raise money for the Boomer Esiason Foundation, a foundation that helps patients deal with cystic fibrosis and raises awareness for the disorder. Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason started the Boomer Esiason Foundation after his son was diagnosed with CF.

Alexa is the captain of the Ice Cats this year. She brought the idea to use cystic fibrosis as the Ice Cats’ philanthropy to junior Ice Cats manager Mallory Robalino, and from there the team got permission to have the memorial game.

“My family has been wanting to have something in memory of Melissa, but didn’t really know the thing [to do],” Roland said. “I think this is the perfect way to remember her and get my family to come here.”

Robalino was on board with the fundraiser because she too had a close friend, Christina Cowan, who passed away from cystic fibrosis when Cowan was 16 and Robalino was 14.

“[Cowan] was just a really awesome, tough girl and a great role model,” Robalino said. “Her death didn’t really hit me until I was 16 because she was always older than me, so once I got to the point where I older than her it was just weird. And I always wanted to do something for cystic fibrosis after that so really everything fell into place.”

As they played, the men’s ice hockey team wore purple laces on their skates, and the coaches had purple ribbons placed on their chests. The Ice Cats created a video teaching people about cystic fibrosis, which was played during the game.

Fans could participate in a chuck-a-puck competition and buy raffle tickets to raise money. The team raised $3,400 for the foundation, $1,000 through chuck-a-puck and raffles, and $2,400 through online donations.

“You could tell it was really emotional for Alexa and she did an amazing job,” Robalino said. “She put on an amazing performance. We were all a little teary eyed.”

Both Roland’s family and Jerry Cahill, the president of the Boomer Esiason Foundation who also has the disease, were present at the game. Roland said it was an emotional day for all of them.

“There was a situation where they announced my sister’s name and then we got a goal, so it was just so weird,” Roland said. “It was just emotional for me to see how many people in my sorority showed up, obviously my team was here, my family was here, my roommates were here, all my friends were here, so it was really nice to have the support of everyone.”

Ice Cats coach Michelle Coppola was happy with how the fundraiser went. She said she had known about the disease before, but did not realize how it affected people’s lives until she met Cahill at the game.

“[Cahill] wouldn’t shake any of our hands,” she said. “He can only do a fist pump because of transfusions and things like that he can easily catch a cold and get very sick, quicker than any normal person, and could easily pass from that. And so it’s that world that we’re so unaware of…Not only did we raise a lot of money, but it was great to bring awareness to the disease.”

She said at the end of the day, they were able to raise money, teach people about the disease and really bring everyone together.

“[There was] a lot of love, definitely a lot of love,” Coppola said. “Alexa’s entire family was here. You could almost feel the presence of her sister. Mr. Cahill just was very warm and very friendly. It felt like—Quinnipiac in itself is a great community—and it just felt like it was a little more of a tight family [Sunday.]”