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A decade later, Dupre’s death still hurts

by John McGourty || NHL.com

In researching this summer’s NHL team prospects’ stories, it was noticed that Ottawa Senators’ defensive prospect Matt Carkner is the reigning winner of the American Hockey League’s Yanick Dupre Award for his outstanding contributions to his local community and charitable organizations.

It was also noticed that Philadelphia Flyers’ right winger Mike Knuble is the reigning winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Class Guy Award. This award is presented annually by the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association to the Flyers’ player who best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport, both on and off the ice.

These two awards honor the character of Yanick Dupre, who died of leukemia 10 years ago this summer at the age of 24, not his on-ice accomplishments.

Dupre was a skilled left winger from Montreal who played 35 NHL games over three seasons. He also played four seasons for the AHL Hershey Bears. His best season was 1993-94 when he had 22 goals and 20 assists in 51 games for Hershey.

"Yanick was a special guy, a great teammate and good buddy, one of those people that can get you to smile at any time," said former Bears teammate Neil Little, now the goaltending coach for the Philadelphia Phantoms. "Yanick was always in a good mood. He was energetic and caring. That’s the best way I can describe him. He had skill, but when I think of Yanick, I think of the person, not the hockey player. It’s very fitting for a guy with his kind of character to have those awards named after him."

"We had a program in place for each team and its players to be involved in community service, but no trophy," said AHL President Dave Andrews. "Yanick Dupre was a terrific young player, an AHL All-Star, whose circumstances were very tragic. We wanted to recognize the person he was and what he represented. Each team would nominate a player each year for our man of the year award in the area of community service. This seemed a fitting way to remember Yanick. We look at the work each nominee has done in his community and then make a difficult choice to try to find someone who stands out among his peers.

"It’s surprising how many players are nominated year after year and some with different teams," Andrews said. "Goalie Mike Minard was an Edmonton Oilers’ prospect who won in 2000 while playing with the Hamilton Bulldogs. The next year he was with theToronto Maple Leafs’ affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and won again. A lot of these guys do spectacular work in the communities and they are nominated year after year."

Hershey has been an AHL outpost from time immemorial and the central Pennsylvania fans take their team and its players to heart. The early 1990s weren’t the best years for the franchise but the teams were competitive, Little said.

"Yanick was one of our better skilled forwards," Little recalled. "Then, one day, Yanick told us he was sick and had to take time off to deal with his illness. It was a shock to young guys like us who had never faced something like that or knew someone our age who was going through this. We offered the help we could. One memory I’ve got was trying to find a Christmas card that was a bit humorous, but also appropriate. You wanted to reach out and help him, do what you could for him.

"Yanick had a couple of months where he was in remission and it looked like he would turn the corner," Little said. "We thought he might be on track back to get in shape and play with us again. Then, he took a sudden turn for the worse. One thing I’ve always had trouble with: He was doing well, I thought. I was in Alberta, not thinking too much about Yanick, thinking he was OK, and he passed away. They had the funeral before I knew that he’d died. I had trouble forgiving myself for not being closer to him at that time, but I thought he was going to come back to being our teammate again."

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster was the Bears’ GM at the time and remembers Yanick’s illness with great pain.

"He told us he was so tired all the time, said he would go home after practice and if he didn’t set an alarm for his afternoon nap, he’d sleep right through until morning. That’s how exhausted he was all the time. They have the finest medical care in the world available there at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and our orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Kevin Black, coordinated our players’ medical needs.

"Yanick had blood work and I got the results on a Friday afternoon. The next morning, I brought in our coach, Bill Barber, and my assistant, Doug Yingst, now the Hershey GM, and Yanick and told him the news. He went back to my office and called his family. It was a very, very difficult time.

"It hurt everyone because this was a great kid, one of those fun people to be around. It was incredibly easy to like Yanick, an awesome young man. It’s very difficult when it happens to somebody that young. I keep a picture that we had done as an organization in loving memory of him, in a Bears’ uniform, with the dates of his birth, Nov. 20, 1972, and death, Aug. 17, 1997. I’ve had that with me ever since.

"You know, players are comfortable in their element, the dressing room, but the young ones aren’t usually comfortable with ‘the suits’ upstairs. Yanick was different. He’d come up and plop in a chair and shoot the breeze. I loved to watch him skate. I didn’t see Joe DiMaggio play baseball, but people said he ran like a deer. That’s how I thought of the way ‘Duper’ skated, so fluid and effortless, like ballet on ice.

"After the remission, the leukemia came back with a vengeance yet even through that, when I talked to him or his dad, he never wallowed in self pity. There were no complaints. He came back for a game in 1996-97 and even though he was sick, there were no complaints.

"When I got your request to talk about Yanick, it jolted me because it’s painful to think about what happened to him and that it’s been 10 years, but I’m glad I was asked to contribute to a remembrance of a fine young man."

Both the AHL and Flyers’ Yanick Dupre Awards recognize service to the community. Dupre was always involved in community activities in Hershey and Philadelphia. When he got sick, the Hershey community gave back.

"We did a huge bone-marrow drive on the floor of the old Hersheypark Arena and advertised it," Feaster recalled. "The people were lined up to be tested, going up the steps and around the concourse. I’m still on the marrow-registry list and get all the mailings. I keep my address up to date, if they need me, because of Yanick."