Our Story

Stickers and the State of Hockey

It all started with one question during the 2017-2018 hockey season, “Can we get those stickers for our helmets?” It happened while I was watching a Minnesota Wild game on TV with my son.

The sticker that started it all.

At the time I was managing my son’s hockey team. My first intention was to buy them so I went to NHL.com, no luck. Then I did a search on the site and found the NHL Assist program for hockey fights cancer which put me in touch with our local American Cancer Society (ACS). A couple days later we had a website for fundraising, helmet decals, lavender tape and “I Fight For” signs.

After we had our hockey fights cancer game, where we raised just under $900 I stopped by ACS to drop off the leftover supplies. It was essentially the end of the hockey season, and I was informed that our team raised the most money of any team in the country and more than half of what was raised by the campaign in Minnesota. I was a bit thrown back that the State of Hockey couldn’t do better than that. I shared my thoughts with the ACS representative who agreed but said they had a very successful initiative with the basketball coaches and not enough resources to do much more. I agreed to connect with him before the next season to help get more done.

My Inspiration

I lived with my Grandmother and Grandfather for a few years after graduating high school. Part of the reason I ended up there was to help around the house because my Grandfather’s health was not great at the time. What I truly enjoyed most was sneaking Grandma banana splits from Culver’s after Grandpa, who was diabetic, had gone to bed.

What I witnessed over those years was truly amazing. My Grandmother was full of love and so very strong both physically and emotionally. If it wasn’t for her, we surely would have lost Grandpa much sooner. When I think about just how strong love can be, all I have to do is think about her.

When Grandma passed away, she asked for us to support the American Cancer Society and I always did when I had the chance.

Grandpa and Grandma (Ray and Ruth Feyen)

Then there was Nan. Nan was my fifth boss in the six years I worked at Mayo Clinic. The first four bosses I had resulted from the organization constantly shifting around me. Nan was the first boss that I pursued.

I first met Nan when I was assigned to a project intended to leverage Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology to improve the patient experience and enhance our connection with patients. I was the representative with the technical expertise. Nan was the Administrative Leader of Mayo Clinic Rochester and the project’s executive sponsor.

Nan Sawyer, Mentor at Mayo Clinic

Nan was amazing. She led the team with strength without using her role or title. She demanded the best performance and held people accountable for it without ever asking for it or showing dismay when it was not delivered. She would make sure that mistakes were learned from and not repeated. Where others may have criticized, she inspired people to do bigger and better things.

My favorite thing to tell people about Nan was how she ended our weekly one-on-one meetings. From the jump when our meetings started she was all business, she had a list of things to cover, and she was going to get through that list and anything on my list. Regardless of the progress we had made, which was usually 100% completion she would stop the meeting with ten minutes left. She would close any notebooks she had open, make sure that there was no computer screen or phone screen distracting her and she would simply ask, “How are you and your family doing.”

We would spend that ten minutes talking about my family. At the time my daughter was 3, and my son was 9. They were the center of my wife’s and my universe, and Nan knew that. She would express how being on the road three hours a day commuting to and from work seemed a bit of a contradiction and that time could be spent much better if I worked closer to home. It seemed a bit odd that she had just hired me to work for her that what I was hearing her say is, ‘are you sure working here is the best thing for your family.’

After we had started making some real progress on what we had started and got the organization aligned with what we wanted to do with CRM, Nan got sick. It was no secret that she was battling cancer, but she seemed to be doing so well on the outside. She got sick just before we presented our path forward, and I will forever remember the call I got from her before I went into that meeting. A lot was said, and I remember the important parts one was when she said, “I will be with you in spirit. It will be fine.”

I somehow knew that was the last time that I would talk to Nan, and it was. A few weeks later I attended her funeral. My anxiety was at its worst, and I had just been diagnosed with depression, and that feeling was getting worse too. I arrived late to avoid the crowds and left early to do the same. I sat in the back row, giving myself as much room as possible from other people. I cried a bit at the service and cried a lot in my car on the 90-minute drive home.

The next thing I remember vividly about my time at Mayo Clinic was walking through the Atrium of the Gonda Building the following week. The atrium is one of the most beautiful places at Mayo Clinic, and I don’t recall a much brighter spot in the clinic. Natural light floods the atrium, and there is a piano that people play at times, and at other times there are different types of musical performances. The ceiling is at least two, three, or more stories high. The light as bright as it was, seemed even brighter that day and I stopped in my footsteps. I froze and felt overwhelmed. My time at Mayo was done, and I was going to find a job closer to home.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Nan would become a primary source of inspiration for what was yet to come. She would continue to inspire me to do bigger and better things.

Time to Energize the State of Hockey

I wish I could say that it was Grandma and Nan that summed up the number of times cancer has impacted my life, but that is not true. I had a coworker that got Leukemia. My best friend from high school has a brain tumor, my mother also had a brain tumor removed, and I have had multiple skin cancers removed. All these things came together to inspire what happened in the 2018-2019 season.

I met before the start of the season with the American Cancer Society of MN and committed to volunteering to support and grow the program. Focusing on the district my son’s hockey team was a part of I started making phone calls and sending emails to the district, other team managers, and hockey coaches to tell them about the program. I would help them set up a fundraising portal and work with the American Cancer Society to get their helmet decals, stick tape, and “I Fight For” signs. I decided to personally donate a trophy at the end of the season to the association that raised the most money.

That season we raised over $20,000 dollars which was almost ten times what the state had done previously. The trophy was awarded to Hastings Hockey Association and was named the John Gegen Cup after a Hastings Hockey player that had beaten cancer. While we had teams from more than just the local district, looking at the state of hockey, we had not even touched the tip of the iceberg regarding the potential for teams to be involved.

I approached the American Cancer Society about the opportunity with a proposal to become a full-time employee at the American Cancer Society with a focus on the Hockey Fights Cancer Campaign. They had expressed to me the success that we were having was getting national recognition and I figured that alone would help, but it was not in the cards and I figured I would keep doing what I could as a volunteer.

Energized and Inspired to Take it To Another Level

Living in Rosemount, MN in 2019 it was hard not to see #Capstrong wherever you went. Cap George was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June of 2019. Cap was a student at Rosemount High School, known for his electric personality, and was loved by many. Being part of the football community in the fall of 2020 I truly felt the mantra, “No one in this town fights alone.” The whole community was going to do everything in its power to make sure that Cap and his family would get every bit of support that they could offer.

I wanted to do my part as well, and as we were going into the hockey season, I made a decision that would allow me to continue doing my Hockey Fights Cancer work and also help Cap. That is when I decided to start 4 Your Cause and registered as a 501c3. The mission would be fundraising for any organization, family, or individuals in need. Going into the 2019-2020 hockey season I also registered the DBA, Minnesota Hockey Fights Cancer, which would be responsible for the Hockey Fights Cancer effort. While we would continue fundraising for the American Cancer Society, we would also support fundraising for any organization, family, or individual fighting cancer.

I recruited a fantastic board of directors and found local students who needed volunteer hours to help build awareness by emailing and calling hockey team managers and coaches. We were ready to do great things and then what hit everyone in 2020 hit us, Covid. Hockey was halted for weeks. Teams stopped registering for games to support hockey fights cancer because they were consumed with getting any hockey season in. Just as quickly as the dream had started to make a difference, the dream almost died.

We only held a handful of hockey fights cancer games, and an online auction to raise funds for ACS. The 2020-2021 hockey season began in much the same way that the previous one went from a hockey fights cancer perspective. People were happy to be “back to normal” as it applied to hockey, but especially early in the season games were getting canceled due to Covid. Covid hit our family for the first time as well. It was early November, and the registrations for games were not coming in. Then this happened:

Michael Weiss, the hockey coach at Marshall High School, posted the video on Twitter with the comment, “Reaction when your doctor tells you that your scan is cancer free! #miracleonweiss#puckcancer @MNHockeyFights

I watched the video more than a dozen times, and as I watched it, I thought about Coach Weiss, I thought about Nan, I thought about Grandma, and I refused to give in. As a team of 16 volunteers and with some help from previous participants, we did slightly better than the year before Covid, and the following season (2021-2022) we did triple what we did the previous season. The 2021-2022 season also saw Coach Weiss take a seat on our board.

As the 2021-2022 season came to a close, I vowed that I would never again allow doubt to enter my mind about the generosity of the state of hockey and it’s fight against cancer. The 2021 – 2022 season saw teams raise more than $75,000 and the 2022-2023 season saw teams raise more than $250,000.

To be continued…

Matt Feyen

Founder / Executive Director

4 Your Cause (MN Hockey Fights Cancer, DBA; MN Hockey Charities, DBA; MN Hockey Family, DBA)