Hope and heartache: Oilers fan says team's fight has mirrored his own with cancer

Troy Kocur paces anxiously back and forth in front of his basement television, periodically cursing during the dying minutes of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, as his team struggles to come back from a 2-1 deficit.

The Edmonton Oilers, like him, know what it's like to be set on their back heels. The team had an abysmal start to the season before going on a hot winning streak, then going on to lose the first three games in the championship finals against the Florida Panthers before clawing their way back into the series and to this moment.

"We're just fighting. We're fighting for our lives, right? I'm fighting for my life, everyday, just like the Oilers."

Doctors first diagnosed Kocur with cancer in 2019 and he went into remission before cancer reared its ugly head again, riddling him with tumours, including in his neck and brain.

Tattoos of the Edmonton Oilers logo, a 'FU' to cancer and his wife and daughter's name are all side by side by side on Troy Kocur's arm.
The Edmonton Oilers, a 'FU' to cancer, and the names of his wife and daughter live side by side on Troy Kocur's arm. (Janani Whitfield photo)

In December of 2022, the Regina man was given six months to live, but he said with the support of his wife beside him, his response was basically — "screw that."

The team's given him hope this year.

"Their championship is another clean scan for me, it is another treatment that I get through."

A lifelong hockey fan

There's something about hockey that's always been a breath of fresh air for Kocur, a way to escape the stresses of everyday life.

"I had my first pair of skates when I was two years old; I was skating when I was two," he recalled.

Troy Kocur says as early as when he was two, he had skates on and learned to move on the ice.
Troy Kocur says as early as when he was two, he had skates on and learned to move on the ice. (Submitted photo)

That was back in the 1980s, the decade the Oilers would win a succession of NHL championships, with a run of five titles in seven years.

Like thousands of other Canadians, Kocur remembers watching those glory days of the Oilers with his dad by his side, listening to the commentary from broadcasters Harry Neale and Bob Cole.

That led to the moment in 2006 when he discovered a new love alongside hockey, meeting his wife, Jill.

Troy and Jill Kocur say they've supported each other through the stress of treatments for Troy's cancer and through the highs and lows.
Troy and Jill Kocur say they've supported each other through the stress of treatments for Troy's cancer and through the highs and lows. (Submitted photo)

"We had just started dating (and) Jill and I were on the couch watching the Stanley Cup Final against Carolina Hurricanes and it came down to Game 7," he said, adding he still gets goosebumps thinking about that game.

"When they lost, he began to cry," Jill Kocur remembered. "I didn't know him very long, and I thought, 'this is a bit weird'."

Troy and Jill Kocur got a chance to see the Oilers play in Edmonton during their final series against the Florida Panthers.
Troy and Jill Kocur at an Edmonton Oilers game. (Submitted photo)

But over the years, she's come to understand how much the game means to her husband and to see how it drives his mindset, the bright excitement in his eyes when the hockey comes on.

"He makes me stay positive, even though some days I don't want to (be)," she said, adding she works as a nurse and is surrounded by sickness, including at home.

"But I see how he takes it in stride and day by day, and not much more I can do but match that positivity."

For his turn, Kocur says he never says he's fighting cancer on his own. It's always "we're fighting cancer," he and his wife.

"Jill is my foundation. She's my rock. I don't want to get emotional about it, but she is. I'm the luckiest man alive," he said.

Ask him if he had any doubts he would live to see his team compete in the Stanley Cup finals after his terminal prognosis and he gives a firm shake of the head.

Before the game, he had a vivid dream that saw the game go into overtime, pulling out a 4-3 victory.

The heartbreak of 2006 returns

But as the clock ran down, the promise of that vivid dream faded and the pain set in. Memories of 2006 cast shadows on the hopes that this team can pull out a victory.

"A helluva game," Kocur said, shaking his head, reminding the others watching beside him that the team was down 3-0 in this series and no one thought they would win.

Three, two, one seconds. Game over.

As his tears start to flow, his wife wraps him in her arms and consoles him.

"Next year," his family tells him. "Next year."

While the future is always uncertain, there's one thing Kocur doesn't hold in doubt — not to take a single day for granted, that he's here to cheer on his team, win or lose.

Every day I wake up with Jill is a good day - Troy Kocur

"Every day I wake up is a good day," he said, flanked by the signs of two loves above him, his wedding photograph on one side, his Oilers jersey on the other.

"Every day I wake up with Jill is a good day."