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Cancer patients get personal tour of the Belmont arena

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Six young cancer patients and their parents treaded through mud and braved high winds on Monday to get their first glimpses of the future UBS Arena at Belmont Park, as part of the National Hockey League’s Hockey Fights Cancer program.

The initiative was founded in 1998 by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association to “inspire hope and courage for those who are living through and moving past cancer” during the month of November, according to the NHL’s website. To celebrate, New York Islanders officials reached out to local hospitals and cancer patients to see if they would like to get a personal tour of the construction site.

Then, on Nov. 2, Dylan Milio and his mother, Kristen; Ryan Starace and his father, Jim; Cianna Tunstall and her father, Michael; Brody Kuenzler and his mother, Theresa; Vincent Buck and his father, Scott; and Alex Gold, and his father David Giuffrida, gathered at Gate 5 of Belmont Park in their Islanders gear.

They put on hard hats and construction vests, before being led through the mud to the entrance of the future 17,000-seat arena, and up a steel ladder to the 300-level of the arena, which will include a designated section for the Islanders’ Blue and Orange Army, a “100-Foot” bar and a dining concourse. From there, the cancer patients and their family members were also able to see where center ice will be located.

Once they finished looking around and taking photos, the group members were then escorted back to the main entrance, where they got a chance to make their mark on the arena by signing a beam that will be placed on the roof of the building.

“My name is on top of the ceiling,” Ryan Starace, 8, of Hauppauge, said he will tell his friends when they watch future Islanders games.

Starace was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago, and his father, Jim, said the Islanders hockey franchise has since been very generous, and have invited the family to a number of games.

Theresa Kuenzler, of Holbrook, also said her favorite part of the day was knowing that her son, Brody’s, name will forever hang at the arena, and Vincent Buck, 18, of Islip, said he appreciated having his name on a beam, so that he can always be at Islanders games, even when he cannot physically attend.

Others on the tour also said they liked to see the arena in its early stages. Michael Tunstall, whose daughter Cianna celebrated her ninth birthday on the tour, said he thought it was cool to see all of the machines the developers need to use for the construction of the building, and Alex Gold, 22, of Islip, said he thought “it was an amazing experience” to see the building first-hand.

“It’s not very often you get to see a building being built,” added Michael Milio, of Massapequa, whose daughter has a rare form of brain cancer, and was unable to attend the tour. Islanders officials let her brother, Dylan, attend in her place to “keep him strong for his sister, Michael said, and have previously let Dylan video chat with players Andrew Ladd and Matt Barzal.

“They’ve been really supportive of us,” Michael said of the hockey team — a sentiment that Theresa Kuenzler echoed.

She said that when the team found out about Brody’s bone cancer with a tumor on his spine, they let the family attend a game and have Brody, who also has autism, speak to Captain Anders Lee.

Brody has not been exhibiting any signs of cancer for up to a year now, Theresa said, but is still undergoing “extensive” physical therapy.

The experience of walking through the future arena, though, she said, is “one that Brody will never forget.”