Young Lightning fan battling brain cancer skates with his heroes

TAMPA — When the NHL was returning during the pandemic four years ago, young hockey fan Easton Beatch was looking for a team to cheer on. A Calgary resident, his hometown Flames were eliminated in the first round. He started following the Lightning and watched them win the Stanley Cup in the bubble.

“So I kept them,” Easton said of his favorite team.

Last June, Easton wasn’t feeling well. Initially, his parents thought he might have concussion symptoms, but he was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer that originates in the cerebellum, which controls muscle coordination, balance and movement. He needed two emergency brain surgeries within two weeks of his diagnosis.

Easton next required immediate proton radiation therapy, which isn’t available in Canada. So with six days notice, the family moved to Jacksonville for two months so Easton could receive treatment at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute. Six months of chemotherapy back home in Calgary followed.

On Saturday morning, Easton, now 10, lived out a dream, hitting the ice with the Lightning during their morning skate at Amalie Arena. Easton emerged from the tunnel wearing a blue No. 12 Lightning jersey with his name on the back and started feeding passes to his favorite player, Steven Stamkos.

He participated in the team’s skating drills, weaving around a cone and shooting on net. He scored on Andrei Vasilevskiy and even ended his ice session getting to tussle with Lightning enforcer Tanner Jeannot, pulling Jeannot’s jersey over his head.

“Yeah, he jerseyed him,” said Easton’s mother, Amanda. “All Canadian kids work on that.”

The Beatch family came back to Jacksonville for a checkup with Easton’s oncologist, so an invitation for Easton to skate with the Lightning a few hours away was a can’t-miss opportunity. The family also attended Saturday night’s win over the Islanders.

“He’s a strong guy,” his mother said. “Getting through two brain surgeries and even watching him skate (Saturday) was unbelievable. After this type of brain surgery, it can be really hard to even walk and talk again, so we are so grateful. To see him standing there with his favorite team and his heroes and getting tips and a pass from Stamkos, it’s unbelievable.

“He’s been through so much, so having these moments created for us, it just brings him so much joy and makes him smile after all he’s been through.”

Easton also received a tour of the Lightning dressing room, where his family immediately took note of the Bolts logo in the middle of the room. Easton’s bedroom wall has three Lightning logos painted on the ceiling and walls.

“Now after hearing about the logo on the floor, I just wanted to confirm, ‘You cannot paint the floor,’ ” his mother said. “Him and his grandpa painted three huge logos a month ago. So he’s a legit fan.”

Easton also received a game stick from fellow Calgary native Brayden Point, who signed the blade in silver Sharpie. He clutched a dressing room stall plate with his name on it, while wearing his Lightning cap with Stamkos’ No. 91 on the side.

Easton is looking forward to getting back on the ice and playing again. His last two scans showed no signs of disease, so after six months of home schooling, he will go back to his fifth-grade classes when he returns home.

“We’re nervous to say he’s cancer free,” his mother said. “But apparently there’s no evidence after two scans, and on April 11 he has another scan, and then from there on, there’s no more treatments. You just hope and pray that it’s OK.”

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