Leighton Accardo was an inspiration to so many within the Arizona Coyotes organization and beyond, and there was an outpouring of tributes to her on social media after her passing on Tuesday.
The 9-year-old, who had germ cell cancer, was an honorary member of the Coyotes, signing a one-day contract with them last season for the Hockey Fights Cancer game and taking the ceremonial face-off against Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano while Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson dropped the puck.
Accardo’s mother Carly shared a post on Instagram featuring her holding Leighton in a hospital bed that was reshared by several NHL players.
The caption read:
“There are no words. Our sweet angel warrior, Leighton is gone. She took her last breaths early this morning surrounded by her mom, dad, siblings and dogs. She was beyond brave, more than courageous, a true inspiration and it has been the highest of honors to be called her mother. Jeremy and I are so proud of her and the battle that she took head on. Cancer aged her well beyond her years and took so much from her but she never let that keep her down. She always found the silver lining and always had a smile on her face.
Her siblings are devastated as they have lost their number 1 cheer leader. Leighton was so proud of her brothers and sister and she loved to watch them compete and win. She was their toughest critic but she knew that it pushed them to be better.
Leighton was fierce, she was competitive, but she was also compassionate and had the biggest heart. The hole that she has left in our hearts will never be filled and not one single minute will go by that we won’t think of her. She will be with us always and forever.
Thank you leighton for showing us true grit and tenacity, for being a warrior and for honoring us with your love for the last 9 years. The impact you have made on this world will never be forgotten. Fly high my love. I love you with all my soul.”
Leighton was scheduled to go to New York to undergo treatment a year ago, but before she left, the Coyotes signed her to the contract and treated her like an All-Star. She gave them a pregame pep talk and told the players they could rub her head for good luck (a favor that was returned by forward Derek Stepan). She took the ice with them for warmups, stood alongside them for the anthems, did TV interviews, received the postgame pelt, and gave the team the next day off, which was met with huge applause.
Tuesday afternoon, Coyotes players and other members of the organization gathered outside the Accardo family’s home offer their condolences and play a game of street hockey.
The video the team shared on Twitter had a caption that read, “What does the Accardo family mean to us? Everything. We’ll always be here for you to listen, talk or play a pick up game.”
The Arizona Kachinas, the Coyotes’ tier II girls hockey association Leighton played for, posted a “Sticks Out for Leighton” tribute.
In addition to the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks offering messages of sympathy, the New York Mets also posted a tribute to Leighton. Her father Jeremy is an assistant pitching coach for the team.
“Leighton was a fighter and we were all inspired by her incredible strength, courage and passion for life,” Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her father, Jeremy, mother, Carly, brothers, Larsson and Locke, and sister Leeanne. Leighton will be greatly missed but she will forever be a part of our Pack.”