Halat in the fight of his life

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

CALGARY - Sitting in one of the dressing rooms in which he's spent so many years alongside his brother, Alex Halat struggles to find the words.

Unlike thousands of skates before, baby brother Moe Halat isn't suiting up on this day to be on his line.

Instead, the 32-yearold husband and father of two toddlers is at the Tom Baker Centre undergoing a seven-hour chemotherapy treatment, battling a rare form of cancer that has ripped 35 pounds from his once-chiseled frame in the last month.

"You try to be a tough guy your whole life, but there are times you want to cry," says Alex quietly, pausing to collect himself.

"You don't wish that on anybody. It kind of takes your breath away."

A former Calgary Royals enforcer who spent two years competing against his beloved sibling and the crosstown Canucks, Alex goes on to say he's never felt so helpless in his life.

"I'd never let anyone harm my younger brother," said the 34-yearold Calgarian, who holds the AJHL single-season penalty mark with 537. "But this is the one time I can't fight for him. It sucks being on the sidelines."

Ah, but it's there on the bench something beautiful has emerged that

has helped Alex, Moe and their family deal with the uncertainty that has dominated their lives since his terrifying diagnosis Nov. 1.

After sending out an e-mail to friends over Christmas, informing them of the large tumour on Moe's chest diagnosed as a rare form of lymphoma, Alex has been overwhelmed by the response.

More than 340 tickets to a Feb. 26 fundraiser were sold within six hours, including a pair to a former teammate who vowed to fly in from Europe. Donations and well-wishes have poured in from all over the oil patch and hockey community aimed at helping ease the financial burden that comes with taking at least a year off to fight for his life. The long list of those lending a hand includes SAIT Trojans coach Ken Babey -- a man who spent four years scheming to beat Moe's Cougars at Mount Royal. Babey has donated two hockey school scholarships.

One of the first to respond was San Jose Sharks winger Dany Heatley, a close friend and former teammate of Moe's. Promising Alex he'd do whatever he could to help out, Heatley is in the midst of gathering autographed memorabilia to donate to the fundraiser.

"It's just shocking," said Heatley of Halat's situation.

"You never know with cancer. To see it in someone so young ... I'm pulling for him."

Heatley, Halat and Ryan Manitowich made up the best line in Canadian Junior A hockey in 1998/99, single-handedly leading the Calgary Canucks to the AJHL crown and Canadian player-of-the year honours for Heatley.

From there, Heatley went on to the University of Wisconsin, second pick overall in the NHL draft and tens of millions of dollars while his junior setup man, Halat, chose to play at Mount Royal College.

"Moe was a real playmaker and I've always felt he could have gone on to play, but he chose a different route to stay close to family," said Heatley. "We were tight. That year I'll never forget and that friendship is always there, especially now that he's going through a tough time."

Halat's condition has Heatley back in touch with several Canucks teammates who keep him updated on Moe's fight.

"They started chemo right away so Alex is telling me he's tired and sleeping all the time so I'm leaving him until that first course is over," said Heatley. "Then I'll find a good time to give him a shout."

It's genuine concern like Heatley's that has cushioned the blow for a Halat family reeling from how quickly life can change.

"It's amazing how you lose track of guys but a tragedy like this brings guys together," said Alex. "Heater's been checking on him every couple days. It's nice to see the sporting community help out. Guys whose names I can't even put a face to are chipping in. We do all these charity hockey tournaments to raise money for other people and now it sucks that it happens to us."

With Moe down to 140 lb. and unable to play with his one-and-a-half and three-year-old sons while he fights for his life, Alex is picking up his nephews regularly and doing whatever he can to help.

Yet he still feels helpless as his brother prepares for surgery aimed at removing the tumour that sits over his sternum, left lung, heart and extends into his neck. Told by doctors there's a 40-80% success rate in fighting his rare affliction, Moe keeps the faith while others lend heartwarming support.

"I sent an e-mail and didn't expect this response," says Alex, pausing and struggling again to find the words. "I appreciate the fact they care so much."

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panelist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada

twitter.com/ericfrancis


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