For the St. Louis Jr. Blues, their 13-1 win over Evansville on Sunday wasn’t just their 15th straight victory: it was also forward Ryan Hempel’s first game back after completing a long journey back into the Jr. Blues’ uniform after being diagnosed with cancer.
A native of Katy, Texas, Hempel played four games for the Jr. Blues last season before complaints of back pains saw him move to the injured list in September. An MRI revealed that he had a tumor in his back, and further tests saw him diagnosed with extraskeletal mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects cartilage. He returned home to Texas, where he underwent surgery to remove the tumor as well as chemotherapy and radiation, all while continuing to work out in the hopes of making a return to the ice.
Hempel finished his treatments in October of this year and has officially been declared in surgical remission: soon after that, he made his way back up to St. Louis, where he re-joined the Jr. Blues and immediately began to practice with the club. Making his return to the lineup on Sunday, Hempel recorded two assists and was presented with the game puck following the win by head coach Chris Flaugher. “For him to come back after his diagnosis and treatment shows an incredible amount of strength and determination, and we’re proud he’s back with the Jr. Blues,” said Flaugher.