WEST VALLEY CITY (ABC4) – Growing up in Venezuela and the surrounding Caribbean area, Hilde Koenig never had much experience with ice hockey. The sport doesn’t have much of a following in the extremely warm climate country, so soccer was much more her thing back then, Koenig tells ABC4.
However, when she and her family moved to Utah in the early 90s, she attended a Salt Lake Golden Eagles game at the then-Delta Center. Parts of the game reminded her of soccer, which she liked. While the excitement of a fight breaking out was shocking at first, it was then exciting for the 14-year-old from South America. She was hooked.
“It was something that I liked and then when I married my husband, he loves hockey too and we just kind of started going because you know I think it’s important to support our local teams,” Koenig says.
As things turned out, with a cancer diagnosis with one of her closest friends, her relationship with the local hockey team has become more and more important. Koenig supports the current team, the Utah Grizzlies, and they support her and her group, Ink Against Cancer, right back.
On Friday night, the Grizzlies will host the Allen Americans at the Maverik Center in West Valley as part of Ink Against Cancer Night. As part of the team’s annual cancer awareness and cancer “warriors” community involved, a percentage of each ticket sale will go towards Ink Against Cancer’s donation fund.
The money raised by Ink Against Cancer is then turned directly to families of “warriors” who are in a cancer battle, giving them a reprieve from medical bills and other expenses during their struggle against the disease.
The organization was founded by Koenig and others in remembrance of her close friend, Austin “Wolf” Bell. An enthusiast of tattoos and a member of the local music scene, Bell passed away at age 38 after a battle with cancer. Before his death, Koenig, who calls Bell her “brother,” remembers a night at a Grizzlies game where he dropped the ceremonial first puck as part of the team’s Fight Cancer night. After his passing in 2017, Ink Against Cancer was founded as a promise to Bell to continue to help other cancer-stricken families.
The partnership with the Grizzlies has been a natural fit for both Koenig’s group and the team.
“One of the biggest things for us as an organization is to be involved in the community,” Grizzlies vice president Jared Youngman says. “When you look at cancer, everybody is affected by cancer in one way or another. My grandma had cancer, my father had it, and everybody has a tie to cancer.”
Over the years, the Grizzlies have done a variety of different promotions to boost awareness and raise funds for cancer-related charities and organizations. The “Pink in the Rink” night, in which the team would wear pink jerseys and dye the ice sheet a shade of pink to honor breast cancer survivors was popular a few years ago. After that, “Fight Against Cancer,” with purple jerseys followed to honor all cancer types. Ink Against Cancer night has been a thing at hockey games for a few years now. In non-pandemic years, the team usually allows those who have had a relationship with a cancer “warrior” to write their name on the ice, which is then covered and played upon at game time.
Due to COVID-19 guidelines and concerns, the team was unable to allow fans to get the names on the ice this year, but is looking forward to doing so next year, Youngman says.
While those who support Ink Against Cancer the most are tattoo artists and musicians who are still reeling from the pandemic’s effects and unable to attend, Koenig is still expecting a nice turnout of around 100 friends to sit together and enjoy the Grizzlies’ game on Friday.
Whether a fight between players will break out on the ice remains to be seen, but the fight against cancer will certainly have its participants in the stands at the Maverik Center.
“It’s a great way to come together as a community and show the love,” Koenig says. “Hopefully next year we can go back to making it bigger.”