Before the end of this Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season, Jesse Sutton of the Quebec Remparts will have given over 30 children fighting cancer a reason to smile.
“We get two tickets for every home game and where my family might only come up here two or three times a year, what else am I going to do with the tickets for the other 30 or 35 games?” says Sutton. “My dad always taught me to pay it forward, so I thought it would be a really good idea to donate my tickets to a charity for cancer.”
With the assistance of Nicole Bouchard, the Remparts’ director of team services and media relations, Sutton established a relationship with Leucan, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the recovery and well-being of kids fighting cancer by offering them and their families assistance during their ordeal.
Because of Sutton, that means VIP treatment at Remparts’ home games at the new Videotron Centre in Quebec City. Visiting kids get to meet Sutton, his teammates and coaches and get a tour of the dressing room and other facilities before being treated to a meal and settling in for the game.
“You get some that are more mature where they're older and you get younger ones sometimes, but it’s the same reaction mostly all the time,” says Sutton. “They understand what's going on and they're just really happy to be there.
“The smiles on their faces is pretty great.”
The Mount Pearl native knows all too well the devastation cancer can cause.
In 2009, a then 11-year-old Sutton lost his father Clarence, a phys-ed teacher at St. Kevin's High School in Goulds and a respected basketball coach, to a cancerous brain tumor at 46.
A year later, his mother Darlene was diagnosed with breast cancer, a battle she has since won; she is in full remission.
“It’s something that hits close to home for me,” says the Remparts centreman.
Depending on age of the children he’s dealing with, the bilingual Sutton sometimes shares his own story of how cancer has affected his life while also making an effort to learn about their own struggle with the disease.
“I get messages from parents a lot to thank me, but really I'm kind of thanking them, too, because it helps me.”
Sutton knows his father would be proud of what he’s doing.
“He was always more proud of me as a person than as a hockey player ... so this is just my way to get a sense of what other people are going through and really appreciate things.”
Off the ice, Sutton is drawing praise and recognition for his charitable endeavors. On the ice, things haven’t gone quite as well.
Through 55 games, Sutton, who coming off a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery that dashed all but four games in his rookie season, has two goals and seven assists for nine points, eight of which came in the first four months of the season. In the 23 games since returning from the Christmas break, he’s notched just one goal.
Sutton, in his draft year, wasn’t listed on the NHL Central Scouting Services’ mid-term rankings and it’s not likely he’ll hear his name called in the league’s Entry Draft in Buffalo, N.Y., in late June.
“I may have put up more points before Christmas than I have after, but I think my game has been a lot better,” he says, noting his puck possession is consistently improving and confidence in his own ability is growing.
“I'm always talking to my mom about ending the season on a positive note and playing well every night and having a really good summer of training.
“I can see the numbers coming up next year.”