Coyotes, Arizona Hockey Community Raise Money at ‘Skatin’ For Leighton’

Now that was one heck of a celebration.

Sunday’s Skatin’ For Leighton event invited the entire Arizona hockey community to come together at the Phoenix Raceway for a day of games and fundraising, all in the spirit of not just charity, but also to honor and remember one of the bravest Coyotes fans to ever lace up her skates — Leighton Accardo.

Accardo was just nine years old when she passed away in 2020 after a courageous battle with cancer, but the Arizona Coyotes community — beginning with Coyotes radio analyst and Senior Director of Hockey Development Lyndsey Fry — will forever honor her legacy in The Valley, and beyond.

Related: Arizona Coyotes Broadcaster Fry Is Skating the Desert for Leighton Accardo

Sunday was technically the second annual event, but the first time the public was able to actively participate. Last year Fry skated 96 miles across Arizona to raise money for the Leighton Accardo Memorial Fund, but this year, everyone joined in on the festivities.

Community Rallies Together To Raise Money

The Coyotes community has been hit hard by cancer in recent years. Accardo’s untimely passing was devastating, and the pain cut even deeper just over a month ago when Matt Shott, the club’s Senior Director of Hockey Development, also passed away following a long battle of his own.

Sunday’s event channeled that gut-punch into positive energy, which was ever-present among Fry, Accardo’s family, and all of the participants. In the end, according to the event’s official Web site, almost $51,000 was raised to help benefit girls’ hockey in The Valley — and this is just the beginning of what Fry, an Olympic silver medalist, hopes will continue on for years to come.

Lyndsey Fry and Accardo Family
Lyndsey Fry and the Accardo family begin the opening lap on the Phoenix Raceway at Skatin’ For Leighton on Jan. 30, 2022 (Patrick Brown / The Hockey Writers)

She said on Sunday roughly 20 percent of the girls who participate in the Arizona Kachinas’ hockey development program benefit from the financial assistance, and the goal is to continue to be able to provide it.

“Everything good I’ve had in my life has come through this sport, whether it’s the relationship I have with my family, the friendships I’ve made, the memories I have, my Olympic journey, my education, or my job,” Fry said. “So, for me to be able to help more girls through this fund, and through this event, to be able to have that, means the absolute world to me, because i know first hand the impact that has on my life.”

To say she’s providing that opportunity is an understatement.

Accardo’s family, including parents Jeremy and Carly, took the first lap on Sunday in honor of Leighton, and though it was emotional at times, the overarching feeling was one of happiness that her memory will live on for years to come.

“To know that Leighton’s legacy lives on, I think, is one of the most important things to us as an organization, and to that family,” Fry said. “That was one of the biggest things that (Leighton’s mom) Carly said at Leighton’s celebration of life, is that, as a parent who’s lost a child, your biggest fear is that your child is going to be forgotten, especially one as young as Leighton was.”

As evidenced by the community’s ongoing support, that decidedly will not happen.

“It means the world to us,” Leighton’s father, Jeremy, said on Sunday. “I can’t tell you how breathtaking it was to take that first lap, and think about the past year, and understand a lot of people cared about our daughter, and our daughter has a legacy that will live on far beyond us.”

Accardo and Shott Will Always Shine Bright in The Valley

The memories of both Accardo and Shott were everywhere on Sunday, a testament to the tireless work the latter had on increasing the impact of girls’ hockey in Arizona. That payoff was realized on Jan. 14, when the Arizona Kachinas’ development program received Tier I status at all three age levels — 14-and-under, 16-and-under and 19-and-under.

Not only did it mean a lot to Fry personally because of Shott’s hard work, but also because Leighton would have become a member of the program. Now her memorial fund will help girls who may never have otherwise had the chance to play hockey become part of a program that has the highest accreditation status.

Matt Shott Arizona Coyotes
Matt Shott was fondly remembered and celebrated on Sunday, as well. (Photo Courtesy of Rich Nairn / Arizona Coyotes)

The achievement is a credit to Shott, Fry, and everyone who has worked tirelessly to help realize that goal, including the Accardo family.

“To have the permission and the relationship to be able to do this on behalf of someone else’s child, that takes a lot of trust,” Fry said. “It was imperative for [Matt Shott] that we bring [Accardo] into our family, and I think that’s what it is now. I feel like we’re all one family.

“I think the fact that they allow us to use her name, and trust us to honor her name in the way that we’re trying to do, I think is really special.”

Jeremy Accardo said he and Carly have never waivered on remaining involved, and are grateful to the Coyotes’ organization for their support.

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“We can’t thank them enough for using our daughter’s name, and making what she went through, and her experience mean something far greater than just our little group of family and friends,” he said. “It’s letting people know that this happens to every day people, and it happens to them often, and we need to do something more about it.

“In the meantime of sharing that story, we’re helping a community that Leighton would most assuredly have been a part of.”

Event Brings Out Coyotes Family, Familiar Names

Coyotes TV analyst and former player Tyson Nash laced them up and took some laps of his own on Sunday, and shared plenty of smiles and stories along the way.

“It wasn’t pretty — Never was, even when I played the game, I wasn’t the smoothest skater, more like sandpaper, but it’s great to be out here, obviously,” Nash joked on Sunday. “Everyone’s involved now, whether you’re walking, or running, or skating, it’s one big community, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Tyson Nash and Lyndey Fry
Tyson Nash and Lyndsey Fry complete a lap on the Phoenix Raceway track at Skatin’ For Leighton on Jan. 30, 2022 (Patrick Brown / The Hockey Writers)

He wasn’t the only familiar face in attendance, either. A litany of former players and personalities all connected to the Coyotes organization showed up to support the cause, and it was truly a day to remember. As music, laughter, and the sound of slap shots from some of the nearby games were heard throughout the raceway, Fry recalled something that was monumental in helping plan the event:

What would make Leighton think it’s a cool event?

She would have been extremely happy” Jeremy Accardo said. “She would have been out there skating, whether she was injured, whether her leg was working or not, she would have been out there doing it somehow, someway. It would have meant the world to her.”

Fry deflected a lot of the credit for the event on Sunday, but Nash said her tireless efforts are just one example of why both Leighton’s and Shott’s legacies will live on for years — if not generations — to come.

This is why Lyndsey does this,” Nash said. “You look at how the program has exploded, and what Lyndsey and Matt Shott have meant, and more importantly, the community of Arizona and hockey has been punched in the gut. With Matt, and with Leighton, cancer has hit us hard.

“I think it’s important for us to be out here in the community. “It’s a healing process, and I think it’s a big healing moment for everybody.”

Fry also said Shott “would have loved” the event, and drew inspiration from both his and Leighton’s courageous battles against cancer.

“The way she carried herself through her cancer fight, it was just remarkable,” Fry said. “To be going through that, and the hard days, and the treatments, and being stuck in the hospital. I mean, what, seven-or-eight-year-old kid wants to be doing that, but she was doing it with a smile on her face, and she never wanted to be treated differently.”

The end result? An event that will help support a growing sport in Arizona, and afford the opportunity for girls who may otherwise not have a chance to participate and learn from one of the nation’s top development programs.

“There’s going to be a lot more people that come out of The Valley that are female hockey players, and just keep spreading this beautiful message, because they truly care,” Jeremy Accardo said. “It’s a community that cares beyond itself, and I’m overwhelmed with tears and joy just to be a part of it.”