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Hicks: 7-year-old, 24-hour game tied together

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By Michael Hicks

Christian Moreno epitomizes what the 24 Hours of Hockey is all about. In a lot of ways he could symbolize who the benefit game, now in its fourth year, is for. 

He is only 7, but Christian has been through more in his little life than most of us will go through in a lifetime. He was barely a week old when he underwent open heart surgery. Then two years ago he had his first liver transplant.

Yes, I said first. He had liver cancer and, thus, a transplant was necessary. But because his bile duct wasn’t working properly as a result of that operation, a second transplant was needed. He got that last September. Oh, and did I mention he’s a little hard of hearing in his right ear.

And yet nine months later, on May 22 at the Edge Ice Arena, there was Christian, with his family in tow, out on the ice, skating with recreational hockey players from around the region who were raising money for the Children’s Hospital in Aurora.

“He’s doing awesome, full of life, lot of smiles,” said Abel Moreno, Christian’s father.

Christian just completed chemotherapy sessions earlier this year, but he won’t be in full remission from the cancer for another three and half years. Yet, if you saw him on the ice you wouldn’t have known that he was a sick little boy.

Skating gracefully, Christian, who returned to  active hockey in January and has also taken up baseball this spring, didn’t have a care in the world. Well, other than the fact that he was playing a game that represents him as much as anything possibly could. Maybe with the exception of his family, which includes his mother, Stacy, and two older brothers – Anthony, 17, and Marcus, 10 – there’s nothing Christian loves more than hockey.

Be it the Xbox games or the thousands of hockey cards, Christian eats, sleeps and breathes this game. The folks at Children’s Hospital knew this so much that some of the workers would stop by his room after their shift just to play hockey video games with him during his stay. They also went out of the way last year, when he was in for his second transplant, to decorate his room in hockey memorabilia.

This is why the plethora of hockey players – more than 40 total – wanted to skate all day and all night to help out kids like Christian. That’s why what amounted to four teams of hockey players went out and collected pledges for this fundraiser, in which each player skated a 12-hour shift – one set from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and another from 8 p.m. until 8 in the morning of May 23.

Co-organizer Martin Richardson had been on the ice, on and off, for 10 and half hours when the game was stopped to allow time for the cleaning of the ice – a routine that went down every two hours – when the Moreno family arrived. He still had another hour and half left on his shift, but who knows if his legs could still go.

“I’m 46 years old. So (my legs) are pretty tight,” Richardson said. “About four to five hours in I started to get real tight hamstrings.”

But at least his shift was about to end soon. One of his comrades, Robb Moody, still had his 12-hour shift to start. He could only imagine what would be in his future come 8 a.m.

“I’ll be tired. I’ll be looking for breakfast and then a nap,” Moody said.

But he knew that it was for a good cause. Players were asked to raise at least $500 each. Some raised as much as $4,000 with all proceeds going toward the Children’s Hospital. In four years, according to Moody, the benefit game has raised nearly $150,000.

And it’s not just a bunch of weekend warriors getting out on the ice. Colorado Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson took part in the 2009 festivities as well as others from the NHL team. When it came time for this year’s event officials didn’t have to ask Anderson – though I’m sure they would’ve – if he wanted to play. No, he requested.

“It’s about the game of hockey. These guys are out here doing a great thing to raise money for the Children’s Hospital,” Anderson said. “They love the game just as much as I do. I enjoy coming out and shooting some pucks and playing forward every once in a while, get away from the mental game of playing goaltender like it gets put on me throughout the year.”

Anderson’s also very fond of the kids. Be it signing autographs or being on the ice with them, he’s giving of his time to these children. In particular, he has taken to Christian, an avid Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins fan. So much so that he was on the ice with Christian, who was serving as an ambassador to Children’s Hospital for the game, taking a face-off with his little friend.

Maybe Anderson was looking for some revenge – wink, wink. After all Christian did swiftly put the biscuit in the net last year against him during the benefit game. And the youngest Moreno had grand plans to do it again this go-around.

A juke right, a juke left, all in front of the goal. That was Christian’s plan.

So did Christian score that goal against Anderson? It doesn’t matter if he did or not. By just stepping back on the ice, Christian proved that he was a winner.