Zach Bennett is an 11-year-old boy from Albany, N.Y., who suffers from Neurofibromatosis, a disease in which soft-tissue tumors grow throughout the body. The disease has resulted in 21 surgeries for Zach, including the amputation of both legs.
That didn't stop Zach and his family from being dedicated fans of the AHL's Albany River Rats, as season-ticket holders for several years. But last spring, their family tradition was suddenly ended: The team announced it was sold and would be moving to Charlotte, as the Carolina Hurricanes' minor league affiliate relocated closer to the parent team.
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That's when the Bennetts decided to put their house for sale and follow Zach's favorite team to North Carolina. And now, the Charlotte Checkers are helping them do it.
With his hockey team almost 800 miles away as the 2010-11 AHL season got under way, Zach no longer could be found in Section 112 at the Times Union Center; instead, he would watch Checkers games online as the family's home went on the market.
When the River Rats were still in Albany, the team became close with Zach, often visiting him in the hospital and at home to hang out, play video games and boost his spirits. The Checkers' players took so well to Zach that they nicknamed him "Bug." Former River Rats goaltender Justin Peters(notes), now in the NHL with Carolina, still frequently emails Zach's mom, Danielle, for updates.
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Last Friday, as the Checkers hosted the Manchester Monarchs, the team announced that their fifth annual "Race Night" would benefit Zach and his family with moving costs from Albany to Charlotte. Through a portion of the ticket sales, a raffle and a jersey auction, over $20,000 was raised to help the Bennetts.
Zach and his family were flown in on a five-day, all-expenses paid trip to Charlotte to attend the game as guests of the Checkers. NASCAR driver Joey Logano was on hand to help Zach and his sister Jenna drop the puck during the ceremonial faceoff.
"He and I used to play hockey on Xbox at his house, and he had my number," Murphy said, laughing. "It will be great to have him [in Charlotte]. He's such an inspiration.
"He battles for everything. He's never given up. We all can learn from him."
As the WCNC report noted, the family was informed while it was in Charlotte that a prospective buyer who looked at the house in December wanted to have another look.
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The decision to uproot the family and go south wasn't entirely based in hockey. Charlotte is home to Neurofibromatosis specialists and in Albany, the Bennetts had to travel as much as six hours to get treatment for Zach.