Maatta Case a Reminder that Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate


Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

Yesterday, I was guest on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s official podcast, the Power Play podcast hosted by Matt Sammon. You can listen to the segment here.

I had a good time doing the broadcast, as I do with most interviews. I’m hardly the shy type, as most everyone knows. Much of the interview was a lighthearted look at my playing and officiating careers, a discussion of my memories of officiating in Tampa and a look at my blogs for HockeyBuzz and my autobiographical book project.

However, we did discuss one topic that is near to my heart: the subject of cancer and the fine work done by the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer program. Every year, each team in the NHL dedicates one home game night in October to cancer awareness.

The Hockey Fights Cancer program started in 1999: one year after Tampa Bay Lightning player John Cullen, legendary Hall of Fame forward Maurice “Rocket” Richard and I were all diagnosed with different forms of cancer. Today, the program is still going strong and I fully support their efforts even though I am no longer part of the NHL.

Yesterday, we all got a sobering reminder that cancer does not discriminate. Twenty-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Olli Maatta — one of the league’s fastest-rising players at his position — revealed that he has a tyroid tumor. There is approximately an 85 percent likelihood that it is cancerous.

The good news, thank God, is that Maatta’s prognosis is excellent. The tumor was detected early. Presuming that a cancer diagnosis is confirmed, his particular condition is generally treatable with surgery. It is unlikely that radiation or chemotherapy will be needed, and he may be able to return to play hockey within about four weeks.

Maatta’s situation is a reminder of how crucial early detection is. I beseech everyone to educate themselves on the symptoms of common forms of cancer and not to ignore the symptoms. Don’t “tough it out” and refuse to see a doctor.

My very best thoughts go out to Maatta, his friends and his family. Olli acted brave in yesterday’s press conference but I can guarantee you that he and those close to him are a bit shaken right now despite the excellent prognosis. Thyroid cancer is actually not all that uncommon among young people, nor is it related to heredity.

Once Maatta gets through his surgery and recovers, he has the opportunity to help pay things forward by becoming a role model and educator for early detection and one’s ability to return to an active life after a cancer diagnosis. That is a far more important battle than any he — or anyone else — will ever participate in on the ice.

************ Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the ECAC.

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget. This post originally appeared on and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

Scott Harrigan
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