LITTLE CURRENT – Former Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustang hockey team member Cassandra Cristo, who recently passed away from cancer, was honoured at a recent double-header fundraiser game at the Little Current-Howland Recreation Centre as part of a campaign to raise money for the chemotherapy room at Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC)’s Mindemoya site.
“It takes courage to fight cancer. Cassandra Cristo had courage. She was young and full of life. She loved being part of this Mustang hockey team. We as a community and school have deeply felt her loss,” said Lisa Addison, manager of the MSS girls’ hockey team.
Cassandra was very passionate about hockey and was a member of both the Manitoulin Panthers Minor Hockey League and the Mustangs’ team. After playing her third season for MSS in Grade 11, she received her diagnosis. She passed on December 26, 2019 at age 20.
MSS student Mackenzie Cortez opened the on-ice ceremony with the singing of O Canada. Following introductory remarks by Ms. Addison, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha addressed the audience. He thanked everyone for coming and donating generously, and encouraged anyone needing help with their own struggles to contact him for assistance.
“Today is about gathering, building strength together and being supportive. Not only supportive for the family who lost a loved one, but it empowers the entire community,” said Mr. Mantha. “Whether people need help in their worst moments, or are looking for help at Christmastime, people put the call out and always somebody shows up on the Island. It makes me very proud to be the MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin.”
Mustangs captain Randi Lovelace and a few teammates skated over to the boards and presented Cassandra’s mother, Sherri Cristo, with Cassandra’s Number 16 jersey. Number 16 will be officially retired from the team’s roster.
Ms. Cristo did not wish to comment to The Expositor at this time but seemed to be happy to be back in the arena as she had done countless times with her daughter.
The opponents, L’Horizon, also presented donations their team had raised in memory of Cassandra.
Following a moment of silence, both teams and the special guests gathered for a photo around centre ice, where ‘16’ had been marked out using hockey pucks.
All of the Mustangs players were wearing helmet stickers featuring pink ribbons with Cassandra’s name and sweater number. They will continue to wear these throughout the season.
The game got underway and the Mustangs got off to a strong start, earning the first goal just two-and-a-half minutes into the match. They followed up with another nearly 10 minutes later, but in the last minute of play L’Horizon notched their first of the night.
The Mustangs tipped home a third goal mid-way through the second period but less than a minute later, Mustang Aysia Debassige had a bad collision into the boards and had to leave for medical treatment.
Mustangs girls’ coach Mike Meeker rushed in to help her off the ice and praised his players for keeping their attention on the game.
“When you care about your teammates and you see one of them get hurt, it’s so hard to re-focus,” he said.
L’Horizon managed to score a second goal and the score held at 3-2 for the Mustangs into the end of the third period. After a fierce last-minute push, however, the visiting team tipped a final, tying goal into the net with only 6.7 seconds remaining in the game.
In some ways, the outcome of the game could be described as similar to this story as a whole. Neither side could say that they had won, but at the same time everyone was able to share some slice of the victory.
The loss of Cassandra can only be seen as a massive loss to Manitoulin Island, but her legacy is living on through these events that are helping to support the treatment of other people facing the same disease.
At the event, in addition to collecting admission fees for the supporters, there was a silent auction set up as well as cash collection, with the proceeds to go towards Manitoulin Health Centre’s cancer treatment room at its Mindemoya hospital site.
The boys’ game followed immediately after the girls had wrapped their match and donations continued to be collected during the latter event.
Ms. Addison estimated that the Friday night netted more than $1,000, which stands in addition to the hundreds of dollars in online donations for the same campaign.
Anyone who was unable to attend the game but wishes to support the cause in Cassandra’s memory is welcome to donate online during the next two weeks. Visit CanadaHelps.org/en/charities/Manitoulin-Health-Centre, click on ‘Current Campaigns’ and then on ‘Chemotherapy – In Memory of Cassandra Cristo.’
More information about the campaign and a form through which to donate is on the website.