The Arizona Coyotes honored the life and legacy of 9-year-old Leighton Accardo on Saturday by inducting her into their Ring of Honor.
The youngster who inspired the team during her battle against cancer and became their Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador died on November 24. But she left behind an attitude and motto that will never be forgotten.
Accardo, who wore No. 49 in youth hockey and baseball, is the first honoree in the Coyotes Ring of Honor at Gila River Arena that was not a player, coach or front office member.
Accardo first entered the Coyotes’ hearts with her stirring pep talk, where she told the Coyotes to “work hard and have fun,” and lucky head rubs after serving as Arizona’s Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador in 2019.
Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson also gave her the thrill of a lifetime when he switched spots and allowed her to take the ceremonial face-off against Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames. She won it, of course.
The Accardo family was on hand to see her join former Coyotes forwards Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk and defenseman Teppo Numminen as well as ex-Winnipeg Jets Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen and Bobby Hull as members of the team’s Ring of Honor. Former Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky is also in after his number 99 was retired league-wide in 2000.
“Today is a celebration of life,” Coyotes president, CEO and alternate governor Xavier Gutierrez told Bally Sports Arizona before Arizona’s game against the St. Louis Blues. “We thought it was very important to honor not only [Accardo] but her spirit and honor what she really does in terms of impacting us, uniting us, creating home and really bringing joy. It’s our honor.”
The ceremony Saturday was emotional, and it inspired the Coyotes, who watched it from their bench.
“I was pretty emotional,” Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper said. “I was fighting back tears. Obviously Leighton inspired us in so many ways and continues to do so. It was hard to watch [the ceremony] emotionally, but [we were] very, very happy just to have the chance to celebrate her life and be able to go play.
“She inspired us in so many ways. We didn’t really have to talk about it [pregame] because everybody knew who we were playing for.”
Then Arizona rallied from down 2-0 to win 3-2 and snap a five-game losing streak, which Leighton would’ve loved.
“It was a beautiful night,” Ekman-Larsson said after the game. “I think we all know what impact Leighton had on us and her family, so to do that for her and get a huge win for her was just a special, special day.”
NHL.com independent correspondent Alan Robinson contributed to this report.