Arizona Coyotes to induct 9-year-old girl who died of cancer into team’s ring of honor

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Arizona Coyotes will take an extraordinary step for Saturday’s game against St. Louis by including Leighton Accardo in their main ring.

Leighton, who left a deep impression on the organization as a former member of the youth hockey program Arizona Kachinas, died of cancer on November 24 at the age of 9.

The inspirational girl with a hockey player’s tenacity becomes the first person in NHL history who is not a former player, coach, general manager, or presenter to be included in a team’s ring of honor.

Her name will join Wayne Gretzky, Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Teppo Numminen, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen and Bobby Hull at the Gila River Arena.

Leighton Accardo, who died of cancer on November 24 at the age of 9, will be admitted to the Arizona Coyotes’ main ring on Saturday. She had signed a one-day contract with the team in 2019 as part of the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative. Norm Hall / NHLI / Getty Images

Leighton has left a deep impression on the organization.

“She really left the impact on us, not just as someone who loved hockey, but as someone who really managed to capture the spirit of resilience and persistence and overcome adversity in the face of an incredible challenge,” said Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said, “Her famous saying was, ‘skate hard, have fun.’ And that’s really what we wanted to keep doing, really remembering her as an organization.”

Every time a professional athlete meets a child with cancer, there is a connection. The encounters move the players, lift the children, but are often short.

Leighton’s buzzing mind, her tenacity on the ice – everything in life – and that smile imprinted on the soul of everyone she touched.

“She was just that kid on the rink that everyone knew because she just had an air of positivity, bubbles, whatever you want to call it, everywhere she went,” said Lyndsey Fry, the director of external engagement and hockey at the rink. Coyotes. ”She was a memorable child. ”

She had unusual grit at a young age, fell and cried on one of her first times on the ice, but refused to get off. It carried her through her battle with cancer.

Leighton was memorable.

“People were so drawn to her by the way she carried herself during her cancer battle,” Fry said. I mean, that’s something adults can’t handle and she just handled it with so much grace, so a lot of positivity. She never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her. ”

Leighton’s father, Jeremy, played in the major leagues for eight seasons and is the assistant pitching coach for the New York Mets. Athletic prowess passed on to Leighton, who excelled at hockey, baseball – whatever she tried.

An undercurrent of persistence pushed it forward.

Fry saw it in the clinic and through the Arizona Kachinas youth hockey program.

Coyotes players and coaches became enamored with Leighton when she became their ambassador for Hockey Fights Cancer Nights. It was enhanced by numerous interactions, including visits to her hospital room.

“We clearly knew how special Leighton was and what a wonderful soul she was,” Leighton’s mother, Carly, said through tears. ‘And the fact that they saw it just made us very proud. They came into contact with her on such a personal and different level. ‘ ‘

The news of Leighton’s death on Nov. 24 sent a storm of grief to Phoenix and the hockey world.

The Coyotes kept their promise to come by and played a game of street hockey outside the family’s house in her honor on the day she passed away. Messages of condolence and tribute poured in from all angles.

Fry called her boss. She planned to skate 96 miles to raise money for Phoenix Children’s Hospital or another place for sick children.

When Leighton succeeded, ‘Skatin’ for Leighton ‘shifted focus. The money would go to a scholarship in Leighton’s name to help girls interested in playing hockey in Arizona.

Fry departed Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Feb. 21, hitting all seven rinks in the Phoenix area before hitting Gila River Arena.

Fry skated for over 14 hours, feet and ankles throbbing, hips burning. She kept going, completing a journey that raised more than $ 100,000 for the Leighton Accardo Scholarship Fund.

“I kept telling myself the whole thing, it was nothing at the end of the day,” said Fry, who also serves as the Coyotes’ radio analyst. I mean even then it got tough and it would hurt my hips, retire or whatever. I just remind myself that this is nothing compared to what Leighton had to go through. ”

The Coyotes signed Leighton to a contract in 2019 and players will be wearing ‘LA49’ emblems on their helmets this season, and will be wearing ‘Leighton 49’ warm-up jerseys for Saturday’s game to be auctioned, with proceeds going to her purse fund.

The ring of honor ceremony will strengthen her place within the organization, the memory of a memorable girl who lives forever.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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