By: Collin Schuck – IceRays Staff
Oct. 15, 2015
He’ll greet you with a beaming smile, a strong handshake, and a jolly demeanor if you don’t know him. If you do, his voice will raise a few pitches with a quick quip or nickname and an embrace. As an official, you’re more likely to hear from his temper and booming voice following a home game than any nicety.
But no matter the fashion that you meet him, Pat Dunn has been one of the most prevalent and influential faces the Corpus Christi IceRays have had since joining the team as General Manager in 2008. He helped to lead a successful transition from professional to junior hockey and a heightened community impact in Corpus Christi while establishing the standard in the North American Hockey League over the past six years. Yet he’s quick to deflect and allows others to take credit for the success around him.
Which is why the origins of the upcoming Pink In The Rink game on Saturday, Oct. 24 are often left dusty on the table and out of the limelight.
“I’m not the one who invented it; I’m just the one who brought it to Corpus Christi,” said Dunn. “The game does have a special meaning, and it hits a soft spot for me.”
In 1991, when Pat was 28 years old, his mother, Marie, passed away at age 54 due to breast cancer. Despite her treatments and fight with the disease, Pat described his mother as a source of inspiration and positivity, never letting the disease bring down her spirits even in her final days. He doesn’t openly discuss his past in conversations, but with a gentle question he’ll show his hand.
“She battled cancer for five years,” said Pat. “And after she passed we started to pay more attention to [cancer]. I started [Pink In The Rink] in memory of my mother, and it’s my little thing to leave behind to do my part.”
Following the conclusion of his playing career in 1998-99, Pat transitioned to the front office and, after seeing other organizations run successful breast cancer awareness nights, decided to put into place his own event after climbing the front office ladder. The most notable implementation of the event came one year prior to joining the IceRays in 2007-08.
Pat consulted with the Texas Wildcatters, a ECHL team based in Beaumont, Texas, in order to help turn around a declining franchise. He suggested having five theme nights, one of them being Pink In The Rink, which benefitted the Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program, a local cancer awareness program started by prominent attorney Regina Rogers in honor of her mother. Both of their mothers passed away on the same date seven years apart, which spurred the conversation.
“I remember talking to [Regina] about the idea for the game, and she told me, ‘Well write me a check for $10,000, and I’ll let you do the game.’ I told her that it’s not exactly how it works, but I convinced her to allow us to benefit her foundation and try the event.”
The Wildcatters raised $81,000 just with the team’s jersey auction alone, not including excesses funds brought in by donors and community members. The game was one of the best attended by the franchise that season: 5,117 fans. Outside of large theme nights, the Wildcatters barely brought in 2,000 fans per game.
“After the game, she gave me a hug and said, “Do you know how hard we have to work to raise that kind of money at a fair?’ From that day on, she always called me her ‘hockey buddy.’”
That defining example gave momentum to the introduction of Pink In The Rink to Corpus Christi the following season.
After joining the IceRays with new ownership, Pat, along with local politician Brent Chesney, implemented Pink In The Rink into the former Central Hockey League franchise with large success. The team raised over $40,000 toward cancer research. Over the last eight years, the IceRays have raised over $100,000 for the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and other local charities.
Today, Pat is two years younger than his late mother was in 1991, and though the team promotes breast cancer awareness and adorns the arena in pink, the encompassing message remains around all forms of cancer and not only supporting those that have been lost or still battle but also providing a way for people to give notice.
“It’s happened to people close to [the IceRays]. It happens all around us with many causes. Sponsors, friends, fans, players. It’s our way of doing our part to find a cure.”
One of those is Director of Game Operations & Sales Jim Carl, who has been with the team in multiple facets over the past eight seasons. Five members of his family have been stricken with cancer; four of those were aunts with breast cancer. His four aunts all passed due to complications or worsening health from weakened immune systems, and his father passed three years ago after fighting prostate and bone cancer. The mourning eases over time, but the images still linger.
“What I remember with my Aunt Mary is seeing her laying in a hospital bed in pain,” said Carl. “She was at the point where she said ‘No.’ She knew there was really no cure for her at that point because she was so far along, and she didn’t want to be in any more of that pain.
The hardest thing is just the pain. To see them in pain because as a parent or as a child, when you hurt somebody else hurts. That’s one of the hardest things for me, and my kids experienced that. To see their grandfather lying there is very difficult.”
Another is Malyna McNeil, a local educator and the IceRays “Jersey Girl,” who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in July 2011 and with a quick discovery was able to treat the disease through surgery. Through her experiences with the news as well as losing her stepfather to cancer and aiding her students who are touched by cancer, McNeil’s mission continues to be the encouragement for support and awareness.
“I enjoy seeing more of our survivors coming out [to games], feeling that they can speak freely,” said McNeil in an interview last November. “Over the past several seasons, more ladies have come out with their head scarves on and being proud to be able to say it. I am so appreciative and grateful for the ability to be here and do something like this within in the IceRays organization.”
Former team owner and entrepreneur Bill McBean lost his wife, Linda, following her battle with breast cancer. Brendan Murphy, a defenseman on last year’s roster, had both his biological mother and stepmother diagnosed and fighting the disease.
The list goes on.
“It’s very easy for us to focus on the negatives,” said Carl, “but think about all the positives. Remember all of those good things. I have a lot of great memories of my dad and aunts, and I always try to put those in the forefront. I know this game is very near and dear to Pat’s heart, and we’re very glad we can carry on the tradition.”
The IceRays continue the tradition next Saturday and hope to fill the American Bank Center with survivors, supporters and fans to rally to raise money and enjoy a Saturday night filled with optimism around a cause close to the IceRays and Corpus Christi community. The team will adorn their customary pink-themed jerseys both on Thursday and Saturday that will be auctioned off to the public following the final game. Silent auction items donated by local businesses and community members will be won and taken home by attendees.
The hockey will be exciting. The atmosphere will be electric. But for many attending that night, even the IceRays staff, weighing hearts will be plentiful.
Even by those who will greet you with a beaming smile, a strong handshake, and a jolly demeanor.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CollinDSchuck.