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FAITHFUL FAN | Hockey lovers score by filling gap for people fighting cancer

Sports and charitable causes often go hand-in-hand. Many professional athletes donate their time and funds for programs in their communities.

But in the case of The Steinberg Winter Classic, regular folks who love hockey are doing the good deed. The classic, which took place in late February this year along with the Legends of Hockey dinner series program in late March, was created by Joe Fresta, Jr., a two-time testicular cancer survivor and avid hockey player. The idea for a three-on-three hockey tournament came to him while attending an NHL Winter Classic game in Chicago. Proceeds aid local families who are in need of financial assistance while battling cancer, helping them focus on beating the disease.

The idea "just came over me," Fresta said, aiming it at first "for senior men, beer-league guys. The Steinberg Rink came to mind and to do it for (people with) cancer. I was fortunate. I have a lot of family and friends and a great support system, the financial wherewithal to fight (cancer), beat it and live another day. I'm still here and grateful for that. There's a lot of people who aren't as fortunate, and cancer can devastate them financially."

Too often, people have to stay home from their job to care for a child, spouse or someone else who is sick. Or they're too sick themselves from cancer treatments to work, and bills don't get paid. The Cancer Care Foundation evolved from the fundraising, and it's been a success at helping people in need. "If you give people support and relieve them of that financial stress, it helps what is already a tremendous amount of stress with a cancer diagnosis," Fresta said.

A social worker with BJC's Siteman Cancer Center and another with the Mercy David C. Pratt Cancer Center identify people who need help. The foundation doesn't give the people a check directly but instead pays a utility bill, fixes a car, pays a mortgage or rent, or pays for medicine and treatments. The foundation has no administrative costs, since all of the board members volunteer their time and services.

Fresta has played hockey since he was 4 years old, taught to skate by his mom at Clifton Park in south St. Louis when the pond froze. His dad also took him to St. Louis Blues games.

"I fell in love with the game," he said, "They signed me up to play at Steinberg Ice Rink. At that time they had youth hockey there. My mom would get my brother and me up at 4 in the morning, throw us in the car and drive us over to Steinberg. The sun wasn't even up yet."

He played a lot of pond hockey in the neighborhood, too.

Fresta belongs to St. Ambrose Parish in south St. Louis. Board members Jon Hodgins and Patrick Sorrentino also are practicing Catholics as are many of the contributors. Fresta mentioned Dave Passanise of Maestro Printing and graphic artist Rosanna Cerutti among those who donate their services. "That's what true charity is, people who give their time and talents," Fresta said.

The speakers at the dinner event also donate their talents, including former St. Louis Blues Gary Unger, Chris Pronger and Scotty Bowman and 1980 U.S. Olympic team captain Mike Eruzione (the speaker this year) and broadcaster Darren Pang (host this year). Others donate auction items.

Steinberg Ice Rink hosts the three-day outdoor tournament. It's a wonderful way to have fun and to support a much-needed effort that operates in the tradition of Catholic programs. Even if you don't play hockey, this is a more-than-worthy cause to support.

Kenny is a staff writer for the Review and a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville. 

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