The power of sport to unite is something that cannot be described but Sheffield Steelers’ efforts to support the wife of a former teammate perhaps offers the best explanation.
Ben O’Connor, fellow defenceman Aaron Johnson, joined captain Jonathan Phillips, wingers Robert Dowd and Tanner Eberle, and media manager David Simms in having their heads shaved after the 6-4 victory over Manchester Storm last month.
They braved the shave in aid of Prevent Breast Cancer, the chosen charity of Vicki Thomas, wife of Steelers’ veteran Mark Thomas, who played in Sheffield for 10 years.
And, after fans literally threw cash onto the ice at the FlyDSA Arena, the shave has now raised more than £9,000 in less than a week.
Mark, who won three Elite League titles with Sheffield, said: “We are so overwhelmed by it all, to be honest. We had the bad news back in September and since then we made the decision try and make a positive out of a bad situation.
“Vicki has been reacting well to the chemotherapy and everyone has been so supportive, which helps us stay positive.”
Dad-of-two Mark thanked those who took part in the head shave as well as the thousands of supporters who donated to the appeal.
He added: “We are trying to raise money and awareness more than anything, especially that younger women should be regularly checked.
“Sheffield is very close to our hearts. We were there for 10 years and it was great to see some of our old friends and teammates.
“We can't thank Simmsey enough for organising it – he’s been great as have Dowdy, Jono and everyone who took. Some of those who had their heads shaved, we hadn't even met until the actual night.”
Mark, who is now a coach at Manchester Storm Juniors where his two sons play, said Vicki was continuing her treatment and the family were ‘keeping busy’.
Great Britain international Ben O’Connor said: “It was an easy ask. The guys were only too willing to help. Some of us, of course, knew and played with Mark here and some didn’t have a clue who he was but just wanted to help.
“I was a little nervous but it’s nothing compared to what our friend Vic and many other women are going through so please support us by donating.”
Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips said: “As soon as Mark told us about Vic we all immediately wanted to support her and the family. It’s a horrible illness but it’s treatable and Vic is getting the best treatment available right now.
“I think we all remember how much Mark and his family gave to the Steelers, Vic was a big part of that so this is the very least we can do to support her.”
For more information or to donate visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/BennyAndFriends