Lucas Pennachi will spend New Year’s Day 2018 at the NHL Winter Classic in New York, bundled up in the cold but happy as he watches the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres in the outdoor game at Citi Field.
Lucas, 17, will be making his first trip to New York. It also will be a unique experience for his family – his parents, Matt and Miranda, and his younger brother, Victor.
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Make-a-Wish of Eastern North Carolina is seeing to all the travel arrangements. Lucas, from Durham, was granted his wish to see the game after enduring strenuous but ultimately successful treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which was diagnosed in July 2016.
Radiation and chemotherapy caused Lucas to lose weight, lose his hair. It zapped his energy but never his inner strength, his father said, and he’s now cancer-free.
“I couldn’t be prouder of him and the way he faced this,” Matt Pennachi said this week. “I don’t think I could have been as brave about it as he was.”
Lucas’ optimism and attitude impressed social workers at the Duke Cancer Center who contacted Make-a-Wish officials.
The Pennachi family often attends Carolina Hurricanes games and will be at PNC Arena on Saturday as the Canes host the Columbus Blue Jackets. Matt Pennachi said the family once sat in the Staal Foundation suite while Lucas was undergoing treatments, and praised the Canes for their support during Lucas’ fight.
Lucas, a junior at the Durham School of the Arts, learned to skate a few years ago but is ready to lace up the skates and play a little hockey at the Orange County SportsPlex rink in Hillsborough. It’s time to catch up with his little brother.
Victor, 9, is a defenseman on a youth team. Dad also plays defense in the adult leagues. But Lucas said he probably would like to play on the wing, maybe have the puck on his stick a little more.
Lucas calls hockey “an interesting sport to watch” and is impressed with the speed and skill of the players. His enthusiasm for the Canes is easy to detect.
Recently, Lucas did lament the fact the Hurricanes have not been in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009.
“It has been so long ago,” Lucas told his father. “I was a little kid. I’m waiting.”
Matt Pennachi, 42, grew up a diehard Philadelphia Flyers fan but now has a dual allegiance, wearing a Canes sweater and Flyers toque at games. He and his wife have gone to Canes games since the team’s early days in Greensboro and try to get the family to as many games now as they can.
“Victor grew up on our laps, watching hockey games,” Miranda Pennachi said. “Hockey is the household’s first love.”
Lucas once competed in cross country but before his 10th-grade year began having problems breathing while running. That came after he had a swollen lymph node in his neck.
Tests soon confirmed Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, a part of the body’s immune system. Lucas was kept at Duke for three weeks for further tests.
“It was stunning,” Matt Pennachi said.
But Matt Pennachi, now coordinator of volunteers at the Duke Cancer Center, had a hockey analogy. He said he told his son of Mario Lemieux, of how the former Pittsburgh Penguins great was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s in 1993 but recovered to compete that season and complete a Hall of Fame career.
“There are people who fight Hodgkin’s and beat it and not only go on to have happy, successful lives but also do some amazing things,” he said,
A charity hockey game was held for Lucas at the SportsPlex last fall. Lucas named the two teams – Black Sabbath and White Stripes – and a few thousand dollars were raised, Matt Pennachi said. Wade Minter, the Canes’ public address announcer at PNC Arena, handled the P.A. duties.
“The support of the hockey community and their support for us and for Lucas has been remarkable,” he said.
Lucas’ recovery has been remarkable, as well. Miranda Pennachi said the results of a scan in July were “fantastic” and that Lucas has another scan next month, after the big trip to New York.
The Winter Classic should create some keepsake memories for the Pennachi family. And after the past year and a half, there’s much to celebrate this New Year’s.