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FROM FATHER TO SON: How Ben Freeman’s Father’s Battle with Cancer Sheds a New Light on Stick It To Cancer Night

Friday, February 10th
FROM FATHER TO SON: How Ben Freeman’s Father’s Battle with Cancer Sheds a New Light on Stick It To Cancer Night

While the Swamp Rabbits continue their fight for one of the four playoff spots in the South Division, a story of another fight, outside of hockey, propels Ben Freeman forward in his journey through the sport.

In the summer of 2016, as Ben, a promising young forward from Falmouth, Maine, was preparing to begin his colligate career for Mike Cavanaugh’s UCONN Huskies, his family received news that would change their lives forever…

Paul Freeman, Ben’s father, paved the way for his son’s love of hockey from an early age. From his earliest memories, Ben learned to skate and the basics of hockey, and his father began building more than just his son’s skills. The childhood backyard at the Freeman residence became the epicenter of a budding hockey career when Paul built his sons, Ben and Jack, a rink.

From there, the journey began for the future Swamp Rabbit, as Paul taught Ben the basics of the sport, including how to take his first slap shot. Later, as Ben grew older, Paul took the reigns as Ben’s first hockey coach.

“My dad was imperative to my development as a hockey player,” said Ben. “He was my very first coach and taught me, first and foremost, to be a team player.”

Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when Paul and his family received the news that all families fear, a brain cancer diagnosis.

“It really shook all of us up when we found out,” Ben recalls. “Initially, it created a lot of stress and worry on our family, but in the end, it brought us all closer together.”

The Freemans experienced the uncertainty and life-changing emotions that, all too often, is felt through millions of families every year.

“The unknown aspect of a cancer diagnosis is one of the most challenging parts of the entire journey,” said Ben.

As Ben began his collegiate journey at UCONN, Paul began his battle with cancer, a battle that he was determined to emerge the victor from.

“Once the immediate reaction was processed, all of us, specifically my dad, understood what had to be done,” Ben recollected. “He had to beat cancer and keep being an amazing husband, father, brother, and son to his family.”

Paul, along with his son, put in shift after shift, as their two journeys were interwoven as one. In his collegiate career, Ben played 135 career games of the 140 contests that the Huskies had over his four-year tenure. The consistency and competitiveness displayed by Ben, earned him the Captaincy in his senior season. His never-ending determination to lead the Huskies proved that apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“My dad continued to go to work, as soon as he was allowed to, and he continues to show up every day with zero excuses,” Ben said of his father’s determined spirit.

Paul’s determination would finally pay off in May of 2017, as he and his family received the news that his cancer was in remission and treatment.

With cancer in his rearview mirror, Paul could watch his son excel in his hockey journey that he helped to begin.

In 2021, Ben hoisted his first cup as a professional, the President’s Cup, as a member of the SPHL’s Pensacola Ice Flyers. The performance caught the eye of his now-head coach Andrew Lord and the Swamp Rabbits, who signed Ben to a contract ahead of last season.

While Ben faced a new challenge of making an impact for the Swamp Rabbits, Paul was about to face a familiar one.

While his son was battling amid his first full season as an ECHLer, Paul learned of a second cancer diagnosis, this time in his throat. In the United States, nearly one in five cancer diagnoses are a ‘second cancer’ diagnosis.

“Hearing that my dad’s cancer returned was very concerning,” said Ben. “What we knew, was that he is strong and had the willpower and support team to beat it for a second time.”

Paul, once again, showed his strength and determination and faced this new challenge head on. In April of 2022, doctors informed him that his cancer was in remission.

“It’s shown me that life is so incredible,” Ben said, reflecting on his dad’s battles with cancer. It’s shown me that living is worth fighting for, every day, and that being an honest high-quality person is the ultimate goal.”

Next Friday, while the Swamp Rabbits dawn special lavender and white jerseys on Stick it to Cancer night, the game will mean so much more for Ben when he takes to the ice against the Jacksonville Icemen. Not only will Ben be playing in honor of his father, he’ll be playing in front of him.

“It is special that my parents are visiting for that weekend,” Ben said. “I’m sure they will be emotional about all of it.”

Paul, now 57, showed the strength and determination that he imparted on his son from the beginning of his hockey journey. Today, Paul still receives regular screening and check-up but remains in remission.

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