Simley boys’ hockey coach Austyn Kryzer believes his team, led by 10 seniors who enjoyed success at the youth levels, is something special.

The Spartans started the season 3-1 after winning just five games all of last season and garnered a few votes in this week’s Associated Press poll. Those results, combined with a recent gesture by three members of the senior class, validate Kryzer’s view.

Defenseman Jakob Myers, forward Kyle Roche and goaltender James Royce organized the “Hockey Fights Cancer-Stronger Than Cancer” fundraiser Dec. 2 as their National Honor Society service project. They ordered T-shirts and sold them and other hockey-related items from a table during the Spartans’ junior varsity game. Youth hockey players solicited donations from the crowd at Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights.

All told, they raised $2,189.64 – more than four times their initial goal.

The boys plan to make care packages for cancer patients at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina that include blankets, hats, scarfs, mittens, socks, lotion and lip balm – items designed to bring patients comfort while undergoing chemotherapy. Royce said they are considering sending leftover funds to organizations such as the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance or the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.

Cancer has affected family members of all three young men. Myers lost his grandmother to pancreatic cancer while Roche lost his father to a rare form of bladder cancer.

The fight continues in the Royce household. Jodi Royce, mother of James, overcame Stage 3 ovarian cancer in October 2016. Seven months later, doctors surgically removed a trio of brain tumors in May. Three more were found in November.

“My standard response when some asks, ‘How are you doing?’ is, ‘I think I’m doing fine until I’m told differently,’” said Royce, a mother of four and treasurer for the team’s Blue Line Club.

She faces two more rounds of radiation treatments, followed by testing.

“I feel fortunate because I haven’t been nauseous or had numbness in my fingers or toes,” she said. “But nobody wants this. It’s everything they say in terms of being life-changing.”

Her strength has inspired James to “go out and do my job. If she can battle cancer, I can play hockey and give my best.” He did just that the night of the fundraiser, stopping all 28 Woodbury shots in a 3-0 victory.

Simley’s fortunes depend on Royce standing tall. He split time last year. This winter, “It’s his net,” Kryzer said.

“He’s definitely our guy; he’s absolutely the backbone,” Kryzer said. “And man alive, is he playing well. He’s making all the saves he should and at least two or three per game that he shouldn’t.”

Making the difficult appear routine is a way of life for Royce. During his mother’s cancer battles, he helps out around the house and looks after younger sister Faith, a sophomore on the girls’ hockey team. Stoic and unflappable on and off the ice, Royce still knows what’s at stake.

All three young men wrote testimonials about how cancer affected their lives and displayed them at the table where they sold items during the fundraiser. Royce closed his testimonial by telling readers that his mother “is currently battling in her third war with cancer and would love for you to support her and help her get through this hopefully one last time.”