Hardships overcome

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

LEKSAND, Sweden -- There are days when Leland Irving reminds himself he is lucky to be alive.

Kenndal McArdle has endured hardships, too, though his story is different than Irving's. But if youngsters across Canada have hockey dreams, they could not do much better than to take Irving and McArdle as examples of beating the odds.

The backup goalie with Canada, Irving, a native of Swan Hills, Alta., was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of cancer, when he was eight years old. Irving underwent 13 months of chemotherapy before he was healthy again.

"I think it's great for inspiring young kids who are fighting cancer, and I hope I can help give them the ability to keep going no matter how hard it is," Irving said. "It's part of my life and it is something that made me a better person. It brought a different perspective and I am thankful to be alive."

Coach Craig Hartsburg gave his players a day off yesterday from practice. Tomorrow in a semi-final, Canada will take on the winner of today's quarter-final between Finland and the United States as it continues its charge for a third consecutive gold medal at the 2007 world junior hockey championship.

Irving, who tends goal for the Everett Silvertips, had a bump on the skin above his left ear that resembled a sandfly bite. When it did not go away, he had it checked by a specialist in Edmonton and was given the bad news. He spent months at the hospital in four- or five-day chunks as he received chemotherapy. Children who are diagnosed with that form of cancer have a 25%-90% survival rate.

"At the time I figured it was something where I would take my medicine and get better," Irving, a Calgary Flames draft pick, said. "Later on I did some research and I was a little shocked to find out how serious it was. I was fortunate to get through."

McArdle, who was raised by his mother, Leilani, also had to get around some obstacles.

The oldest player on Canada's junior team (he turns 20 on Thursday), McArdle, a left winger, is just one of three players on Canada's roster, along with defenceman Cody Franson and Darren Helm, who did not have international experience before this tournament.

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There were financial woes for McArdle, who was born in Toronto and moved to British Columbia when he was five, and his mother in Burnaby, B.C., but they persevered. McArdle became a first-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2005 but only after he was loaned equipment and money at times as a youngster.

McArdle had a spot on Canada's under-18 team for the 2004 world championship but a broken rib kept him from playing. He was at the development camp in 2005 but did not get invited to the selection camp last winter.

"Not everyone goes through the front door," said McArdle, who was traded to the Vancouver Giants earlier this season from the Moose Jaw Warriors. "Choosing to come through adversity is a lot different than having something handed to you. I am not going to deny it was hard, but I think anyone else might have done the same thing."


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