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Local Hero: Story of the Year on Jan. 1!

Vancouver assistant equipment manager Red Hamilton posts on social media about Oct. 23 opening night fan in hopes to thank her personally. That will happen Saturday

By Bob Condor

The Kraken’s opening night at Climate Pledge Arena will forever mean a lot of things to a lot of people, from fans to players to construction workers who built this place.

For Brian Hamilton, the night to remember is profoundly memorable, the most incredible of incredible moments from that Oct. 23 opener. Hamilton, who goes by the nickname “Red,” is an assistant equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks.

Saturday night is going to be perhaps even more momentous. A fan, 22-year-old Nadia Popovici is Hamilton’s “hero” because she “extended and saved my life.” Popovici will be attending Saturday’s game.

Hamilton, who posted a letter on social media just as the Canucks bus was arriving at the arena for a Saturday morning skate, will get to meet and thank the young woman who found a way to get a message to the equipment manager about a mole on the back of his neck.

“I’m thrilled,” Hamilton said on a Zoom media call that was populated by local and North American media (Saturday’s fame will be nationally telecast in Canada). “It’s the whole reason the letter was written. I wanted to thank her for her persistence.”

That persistence involved trying to get Hamilton’s attention in between periods on the visitors bench at Climate Pledge Arena. There are always fans across the NHL who try to get equipment managers to toss over a puck or stick. All Popovici wanted to do was tell Hamilton the mole on the back of his neck was cancer.

Her method was to get Hamilton’s attention, then show her phone message in a bigger and more colorful display: “The mole on the back of your neck is cancer.”

Hamilton admits he shrugged and kept walking: “I felt like I didn’t give her the time of day.”

That will not be repeated Saturday by the affable Hamilton, who in an hour became a national personality in Canada and likely will work his way to similar status in the U.S. and European hockey communities by 7 p.m. puck drop.

“I will thank her for being persistent,” said Hamilton, emotional but poised as he answered upwards of 20 media questions. “My mom wants her to know she loves her.”

Popovici is about to start medical school in 2022. She has been accepted by several medical schools and volunteers in oncology wards, which is how she correctly identified Hamilton’s cancerous mole.

Turns out the Kraken fan and Tacoma resident missed the international reaction to Hamilton’s letter because she was napping. She volunteers on a suicide hotline overnight.

She was planning to attend Saturday’s game even before the day’s news – and odds-on story of the new year before 2022 was even a half-day old in the Pacific time zone.

As it turns out, Hamilton’s mole was indeed malignant. He asked his wife to look at his mole the next morning (the Canucks were back home after a long road trip). His wife described it as a “weird shape.”

Dr. Jim Bovard, the Vancouver team physician, checked the mole before the ensuing Tuesday home opener, didn’t like what he saw and pledged to bring the proper equipment to remove the mole before the next home game two nights later.

The biopsy showed malignant melanoma in situ 2, which means the cancer was on the outer layer of the skin but had not penetrated the inner layers of the skin (which, by the way, is the human body’s largest organ).

Bovard “diagnosed me with cancer and said he would cure me of cancer all in the same phone call,” Hamilton said.

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