The Vancouver Canucks gave a very personal thank you to a keen-eyed Kraken fan before Saturday’s game in Seattle.
When the 32nd franchise in the NHL played its first home game in the Emerald City last fall, the best save for the Canucks may have been off the ice.
“She’s a hero — she and her persistence,” said Canucks assistant equipment manager Brian ‘Red’ Hamilton.
More than two months after the Oct. 23, 2021 game, the team tweeted an open letter from Hamilton, hoping the hockey community could help him find the very special person who sat behind the Canucks bench at the Seattle home opener.
“The message you showed me on your cell phone will forever be etched into my brain and has made a true life-changing difference for me and my family,” Hamilton’s post stated.
During a Saturday Zoom call with media, Hamilton explained what the fan managed to notice — and subsequently alert him to during the chaos of the game.
“I’m walking off the bench and she put her phone up to the glass,” recalled Hamilton. “On the phone it said, ‘The mole on the back of your neck is cancer,’ and it threw me off.”
The story was shared widely on social media and soon the mother of future Seattle medical student Nadia Popovici proudly identified her daughter as the Kraken fan.
“This is absolutely amazing!” wrote Yukyung Nelson in a Facebook post. “She just got accepted to multiple medical schools.”
Popovici said she was seated behind Hamilton for the entire game and since he had his back to her, she was able to get a good look at the mark on his neck.
“The mole just kind of caught my eye and I immediately noticed that it had all the hallmarks of a melanoma — it had an irregular border, it was pretty large in diametre and kind of discoloured,” she recalled.
“If that was my dad, I would want someone to say something and so I kind of caught him in a semi-private moment.”
Hamilton said he felt bad for seemingly shrugging Popovici off as he walked away from the bench.
“I felt like I didn’t really give her the time of day,” he told Global News. “I got scared right off the hop and in the back of my mind I knew she was right.”
Hamilton sought medical advice from the team and a doctor confirmed Popovici’s instincts – the mole was a malignant melanoma.
“The words out of the doctor’s mouth were if I ignore that for four to five years, I wouldn’t be here,” said Hamilton.
Thanks to early detection and the quick work of doctors, his cancer is gone.
“Me and my Mom have been just in tears,” Popovici told Global News Saturday.
“Because it’s such a rare and special thing that this happens, and you actually get to get some resolve.”
Popovici said she was initially nervous about sharing her gut diagnosis with Hamilton, but is glad she did.
After the Internet found her, Popovici and Hamilton met in person on Saturday — and he was able to express his gratitude to her at Climate Pledge Arena.
The Canucks also teamed up with the Kraken to award Popovici a $10,000 scholarship towards medical school.
After the announcement was made at the game, Popovici told Global News she couldn’t believe it, and cried in her seat.
“They have no idea how much that money means to me,” she said. “This has been the best day of my life.”
“She extended my life, she saved my life,” said Hamilton.
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