Portland High junior Sloane O’Donnell Fox is organizing a Hockey Fights Cancer game involving her Portland/Deering team on Feb. 4. The game is in honor of her late father, Rick Fox, and will benefit the Dempsey Center.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Sloane O’Donnell Fox was in sixth grade when she played her first ice hockey game. It wasn’t long after she scored her first goal. Celebrating on the ice with her teammates, Sloane found her dad, Rick Fox, in the stands, cheering her on, too. They locked eyes.

“After the game where I scored my first goal, he was like, ‘Great job on the goal, but you should’ve done this, this, and this,’ ” O’Donnell Fox said, laughing. Her dad, who grew up in Troy, New York. and played college hockey at Sienna College, taught Sloane how to skate, taught her how to lace up her skates, how to tape her stick, how to put all her equipment on the right way. He wanted nothing more than to see Sloane enjoy the game as much as he did.

“He was her biggest fan,” said Cathleen O’Donnell, Sloane’s mom. “My husband was funny, smart, and had a mind for hockey. They watched so much hockey together. It was their thing. It was his favorite sport, and now it’s hers.”

After a 16-month fight with bile duct cancer, Rick Fox died in February 2020. O’Donnell Fox, a 17-year-old junior at Portland High, remembers her dad every time she’s at the rink. On Feb. 4, when her Portland/Deering girls’ hockey team hosts Penobscot at Troubh Ice Arena, Sloane’s love for her father and hockey will come together in the form of a Hockey Fights Cancer game to benefit the Dempsey Center.

“The Dempsey Center was really good to our family, and my dad, so it’s really important to me. I love hockey, and one of the biggest things about the Dempsey Center is they help the families also. I want to give back to them,” she said.

The Dempsey Center has locations in Lewiston and South Portland, and offers a number of services to cancer patients and their families. The Dempsey Center set up a web site to promote the game organized by O’Donnell Fox.


“They connected me with resources and helped with how to talk with Sloane about what was happening,” O’Donnell said.

Hockey Fights Cancer was founded in 1998 by the NHL and the NHL Players Association as a way to support cancer patients and their families. Fans attending the Feb. 4 game are asked to make a donation to benefit the Dempsey Center. Portland/Deering will use lavender-colored tape on their stick, the color of Hockey Fights Cancer.

An anonymous donor has agreed to cover the costs for helmet sticks the team will wear, as well as the stick tape and T-shirts, which bear the slogan #RickStrong. The team will wear the shirts and they will be on sale at the game. The Dempsey Center will have a special guest on hand for the ceremonial pregame puck drop between O’Donnell Fox and a Penobscot player.

O’Donnell Fox attended North Yarmouth Academy for her first two years of high school before transferring to Cheverus last season. A car accident resulted in her missing too much school, and she’s repeating her junior year now at Portland High. She suffered a torn meniscus in Portland/Deering’s second game of the season, when a teammate collided with her. O’Donnell Fox is on crutches, but hopes to be back on the ice later this month.

“She’s an amazing teammate. Even before her injury, she brought so much energy to the ice,” said Lauren Gerber, a senior co-captain who skated on a line with O’Donnell Fox before her injury. “She’s not scared to direct people, which in my opinion is a good thing. She’s not scared to tell someone, ‘Maybe do this differently.’ I loved playing with her.”

Dan Winship, Portland/Deering’s first-year head coach, said this is a rebuilding season for his team. Winship is less concerned with wins and losses this season than with building the program, and learning about hockey and life together.


“That’s what I see in Sloane. She’s here, even with this injury she’s helping me all the time. Whether it’s on the bench or after the game, before the game, practices. She brings out what I see as characteristics of leadership and will be more valuable after hockey. That’s what I hope we get out of all our girls,” Winship said.

O’Donnell Fox got a later start than most hockey players, not getting on skates until she was in sixth grade.

“She was a dancer before, and I said, ‘You can’t do both,'” her mother said.

When O’Donnell Fox decided to set aside he dancing shoes for skates, she threw herself into her new passion. She was in eighth grade when her father was diagnosed with cancer. O’Donnell Fox played on three hockey teams that winter, and it was a welcome distraction.

The Hockey Fights Cancer game O’Donnell Fox is organizing for her team’s season finale isn’t her first experience with the event.

“At NYA we had a Hockey Fights Cancer game,” she said, “and that was the last game my dad ever saw me play in.”

Comments are no longer available on this story