Hockey goalies across the country defy cancer one save at a time

Noah Canfield

Each October since 2014, volunteer-led October Saves brings hockey goalies together to gather pledges for each save they make throughout the month in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Participating goalies range from mites—youth hockey players—to professionals in the NHL, and everyone in between. The program, originally founded in Virginia, became a part of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s grassroots Jimmy FundRaiser efforts in 2021, when they added Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund to their list of beneficiaries, thanks to the tremendous support from New England goalies, who were looking to support cancer care and research in their own communities.

Lara Hopewell started October Saves after facing her own breast cancer diagnosis 13 years ago. “As a mom of two young hockey players, the rink was a happy place and safe haven from some of the worry and fear that my diagnosis brought to our family,” she shares. “We decided to raise money to support cancer research with our club and were shocked to see the outpouring of support from our community. That’s when we decided to formalize October Saves.”

October Saves volunteer lead, Lara Hopewell, with both of her sons.

Lara serves as one of the main October Saves leads, along with Kerry Smith and Travis Johnson. All three balance this charitable volunteer work on top of full-time jobs. The key for them is spreading the word and relying on the support of hockey parents and coaches on the ground with the individual teams, rinks, and regions, who encourage participation in this annual effort to make a difference in the fight against cancer.

When asked what has kept the event so successful year after year, Lara credits the passion of the goalies. “We have some great prizes, like a week’s worth of free tuition to NHL coach Mitch Korn’s sought-after summer camp, but I truly believe that this is not why our goalies do it,” she shares. “They do it because they’ve all been affected by cancer in some way and feel that this is their opportunity to make a difference, while doing what they love.” Lara has also observed that October Saves has struck a unique nerve with the goalkeeper position specifically, since this is often a lonely and isolated position. October allows goalies who are used to competing against one another to unite for a common cause and feel that their teammates and community are rooting for them. “We like to joke with coaches that their goalies will make more saves and shutouts in October than any other month because they know that all eyes are on them and their team and community has their back,” Lara shares with a smile.

Hockey goalies across the country defy cancer for Dana-Farber and The Jimmy Fund one save at a time
From left to right: Charlie Capalbo, October Saves participant Dante Sousa, NHL Coach Mitch Korn, and Will Capalbo (Charlie’s brother).

Charlie Capalbo and his family were another source of inspiration, encouraging October Saves to support Dana-Farber. Mitch Korn introduced Charlie and his family to the program because of their connection to both hockey and cancer. Then an avid Connecticut goalie, Charlie was a cancer patient himself, fighting leukemia and lymphoma for five years before he lost his courageous battle at age 23. He continues to be a symbol  of resilience, strength, and positivity for the October Saves community, which has supported the Capalbo Family through the tragic loss of their son and directed a portion of the 2021 proceeds to Dana-Farber in Charlie’s honor, supporting Dr. Scott Armstrong’s lab and his pediatric acute myeloid leukemia (AML) research. Lara and the October Saves team have made a change to honor his spirit and legacy, renaming the Mitch Korn Camp Scholarship in honor of Charlie. October Saves also has a training scholarship with The Goalie Guild for a participant whose family is directly facing a cancer diagnosis.  

According to Lara, October Saves’ key to success has been sticking to areas that they know and are comfortable with. “Try to leverage a hobby or interest that you already enjoy and figure out a way to raise money doing what you love,” she says. “A pledge per save is a super simple concept, but if you believe it in you can inspire others to support you and your cause.” They have also learned to adapt and evolve over time, especially through COVID-19. Lara and her team of volunteers recognized that cancer doesn’t stop during a pandemic, so they brainstormed and came up with alternative participation options such as #AllSavesOneGoal, which evolved into making pledges for saves wherever you were, including games, practice, the driveway, or even on your gaming console.

The October Saves team is inspired to continue to dedicate their time to this cause because of the advances and breakthroughs made at institutions like Dana-Farber every day. “It often feels like we aren’t making progress in the fight against cancer, but that’s not true at all,” Lara says. “It’s a very inspiring time in the fight to end cancer. We can all give something and it’s truly making a difference!”

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