Clarkson Cup champ Wronzberg faces off for greater cause in Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer tournament
Updated: Feb 6
Having crafted a brilliant career on the ice, as one of the first stars with the Ryerson Rams women’s ice hockey program, Melissa Wronzberg of Thornhill, Ont., graduated to the professional ranks and has a major impact on the female game, both on and off the ice.
Along with fellow Rams alumna Jessica Hartwick of Brampton, Ont., she skated for the Markham Thunder of the former Canadian Women's Hockey League (CHWL), eventually having their names engraved on the coveted Clarkson Cup as being part of a championship contingent.
But there is another treasured trophy that another one of Wronzberg’s hockey teams has won that perhaps means just as much as the championship prize once considered the female game’s equivalent to The Stanley Cup. This other trophy is now on permanent display at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Ontario. Its special meaning comes from the important and often emotional cause it represents. This is the trophy awarded annually to the top community fundraising team at the Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer (RHCC) tournament.
Wronzberg’s family assembles a team each year known as Team Lex. The team name stands as a tribute to her late cousin, Alexis, a life lost far too soon to cancer. Having won the inaugural RHCC tournament, Team Lex holds a treasured place in the now popular event's lore, its name a recognizable and known one, carefully engraved on a championship trophy that represents a life battle greater than bragging rights in any one sport. This trophy represents the battle each individual diagnosed with cancer fights day in and day out, an the ongoing battle for medical research that will eventually, as the tournament says in its own name, "conquer" this devastating and often deadly disease.
The 2021 tournament represents Wronzberg’s fifth year participating. Participating in RHCC annually has served as an integral facet of her hockey journey, running parallel to her brilliant on-ice heroics that have highlighted her own career and helped grow the women's game. The impactful road hockey event not only helps keep her connected to a sport she treasures dearly, but every tournament appearance serves as an ongoing tribute to cousin, Alexis.
“I think that doing the RHCC every year is enjoyable because you see so many people coming together for one great cause," Wroznberg told OFFSIDE.
"The day of the event can always bring a lot of emotions, from the fun of getting to play hockey and enjoying the time with my family and team, to the emotions of sadness or pride that come from stories we hear of people who passed or are there as survivors or continuing to battle."
Wroznberg added, "even getting to talk to the pros that come out each year is something I really enjoy as many are very down-to-earth and just as interested in our stories as we are in theirs. We often get to hear stories of how they have been affected by cancer as well as some of their more fun stories from their days in the pros.
"I guess in the end, it is bringing together a community of people of all different cultures, backgrounds, and professions, all going after the same goal of conquering cancer for whatever reason each person may have.”
During Wronzberg’s continued association with RHCC, perhaps no moment was as poignant as a heart-warming public dialogue between herself and a fellow professional hockey player. Addressing a crowd of players and supporters, Wronzberg made a powerful statement by courageously cutting her hair to graciously donate the shorn locks for the creation of wigs to outfit children undergoing cancer treatment. The moment spoke volumes of her commitment and compassion to conquering cancer in honour of her cousin.
Wronzberg was coincidentally joined in her act of kindness that evening by some National Hockey League (NHL) talent that happened to be on hand at the tournament's Celebrity Draft Night. P.J. Stock, a former skater for the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, held the scissors that chopped her locks in hand. Considering that both hockey heroes shared the same number in their on-ice professional odysseys, this special moment signified an element of serendipity for the two like-minded caring players.
“I was very proud to get to not only cut my hair, but also give a speech at the Celebrity Draft Night and share the story of my cousin and family," Wronzberg recalled. "That night was definitely emotional for me. Donating my hair started out as me just doing it to try to get more people to donate to the cause, and then when the organizers got wind of what I was doing, they were the ones who suggested I could do it as part of the event.
"Even cooler was having a guy like P.J .Stock not only cut my hair, but also relate back to my story mentioning that he wore No. 28 in the NHL, which was a significant number for my cousin and what I talked about in my speech. "
Following that shared experience, Wronzberg said Stock "reached out to me a while later thanking me for donating my hair and sharing with me that he told people back home about it and apparently that encouraged some others that he knew to donate as well. To me, that was super special.”
Undeniably, Wronzberg calling family members her teammates, all of them garbed in the black and gold of the Team Lex jersey each and every year, makes the Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer tournament an extremely significant event in her life. The tournament unites not just her family in a shared cause, but also an extended family that flows throughout the Canadian hockey community that brings those who love the game together as humanitarians facing off for a higher cause: fundraising for research that will one day help us win the war against cancer.
The RHCC tournament is a growing legacy that Wronzberg is proud to continue contributing towards, and her compassion and commitment to the event is certainly proof positive that Alexis will live in Wronzberg’s heart forever, along with those of her equally dedicated relatives and friends.
“Our team is made up of my Uncle (Lex's father), my father, my brother, my cousin-in-law (which would have been Lex's brother-in-law), and a bunch of guys that I have known really my entire life as they have played floor hockey with my dad and uncle since before I was alive. So the whole team really is like extended family," she described.
"We all know we are there representing Alexis and everything that she meant," Wronzberg said. "It goes back again to bringing people together, all wanting to bring light to the same cause. To wear Alexis's name, and a picture of her while we play, is always special. I am always super proud to go to the event alongside my family, as well as have people ask me about my jersey and the picture of Lex that we wear on our sleeve.”
All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated.
Images supplied by Melissa Wronzberg.