By Nicholas Barker
Last year was a year like no other. Unspeakable tragedies and a global pandemic have shut down most of the world for the last 10 months.
As 2020 came to a close, the Arizona Coyotes and the Valley suffered more heartbreak. Leighton Accardo, a 9-year-old Coyotes superfan, died after battling stage four malignant germ cell cancer since May 2019.
In 2020, about 606,520 people died of cancer in the United States, but when it takes a life of someone who is so loved and known, it hurts even more.
The Gilbert girl played youth hockey for the Arizona Kachinas, which is run by the Arizona Coyotes, and signed a one-day contract with the ’yotes before a game against the Calgary Flames.
To honor her life and legacy, the Coyotes will host Skatin’ for Leighton, which will feature Lyndsey Fry, the Arizona Kachinas Hockey Association president.
During the event, Fry will rollerblade across the Valley, stopping at hockey rinks along the way. It’s 96 miles—in honor of the Coyotes coming to the Valley in 1996.
“I’m going to start at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, then I’ll be going to AZ Ice Arcadia, Ice Den Chandler, AZ Ice Gilbert, Coyotes Community Ice Center, Oceanside in Tempe and then up to the Ice Den in Scottsdale, over to the Peoria rink and ending at Gila River Arena,” Fry says.
“It is probably going to take me about 11 or 12 hours, so I’m probably thinking I’m going to go from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.”
The event’s date will be secured soon. Fry is hoping fans will meet her along her journey across the Valley.
“Hopefully people will show up to the rinks and say hi,” says Fry, a former Olympic hockey player. “I know a lot of people want to throw their skates on and skate around at some different parts. It’s going to just be me because of a safety standpoint, but I hope people throw their rollerblades on and are skating a little bit.”
The event was planned before the death of Leighton, whose parents are Jeremy, a New York Mets assistant pitching coach, and Carly Accardo.
“It was going to be more of a season kickoff and a small fundraising component in honor of Leighton, but when we found out how sick she really was and how little time she had left, it was like a full 180. We’re going all-in on this,” Fry says. “I’m thankful that I am able to use my platform to make a difference and ensure that her legacy stays alive forever.”
Leighton’s legacy includes her involvement in and her love for women’s sports, especially youth hockey. Leighton wore No. 49 for the Arizona Kachinas, and the Coyotes are considering retiring the number. The Leighton Accardo Scholarship fund has been introduced to help get young girls involved in and excited about hockey.
“There’s been a lot of talk of growth in the sport and how do we get young girls involved in hockey and trying it out,” says Fry, also the Coyotes’ director of external engagement and female hockey.
“For those girls who want to play, it could really be a life-changing difference for them to play. If they can’t afford it, how do we help those kids with these funds? We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that girls like Leighton are able to play.”
The Coyotes are hoping to raise $49,000 for the scholarship fund, to honor Leighton’s number. So far, almost $10,000 has been raised, and Fry expects to meet the goal.
“I think we will continue to have waves of donations coming through,” Fry says. “I’ve had a number of people reach out to me who want to donate but they just haven’t had the chance to yet. I think we are also going to get corporate sponsors who are going to want to donate to this cause.”
Skatin’ for Leighton, nhl.com/coyotes/community/skatinforleighton.