EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 11, 2013

They share love of Umass Lowell hockey

Father, daughter fighting leukemia make trip to Frozen Four

Methuen’s Sebastian Bongiorno loves college hockey and, especially, the UMass Lowell Riverhawks.

For nearly two decades he’s been a season ticket-holder, vowing in the early 1990s to never give Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs another cent. And the ride the Riverhawks have taken him on last year and particularly this year, playing in today’s Frozen Four game against Yale at 4:30 p.m. (on ESPN) has been special.

“(UMass Lowell is) so good and so exciting to watch,” Bongiorno said. “Their defense is amazing. Their goaltending is amazing. They are a complete team. ... I’ve been waiting almost 20 years for a (Lowell) team this good.”

But, there is another kind of love — one that supersedes hockey — like the love Sebastian has for his daughter, Danielle Bongiorno.

Father and daughter are in Pittsburgh today for the NCAA Div. 1 semifinal to root on the Riverhawks. Their voyage to western Pennsylvania — and we’re not talking about the lengthy 11-hour car ride on Tuesday — is an inspiring one.

About a month earlier, Danielle was in the hospital being treated for leukemia. She was diagnosed on Oct. 16, 2012, after going to the emergency room for what she thought was a urinary tract infection.

It was leukemia, a treatable form. She dropped everything and immediately began aggressive chemotherapy treatments, needing to be hospitalized for long stretches, including a recent six-week stay.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be going to Pittsburgh,” said Sebastian, who retired as a lieutenant from the Lawrence Fire Department in 2005 after 32 years.

“It just wouldn’t have been right, with Danielle sick and possibly in the hospital,” he said. “It was going to be myself and my wife, Linda, who is also a big fan. But I didn’t get any nibbles. Nobody bought them.”

The irony is that this was the first year Danielle and her fiancée, Caleb Hand, bought season tickets, expecting to join her parents for most of the home games at the Tsongas Center.

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