A university hockey game raised $20,000 for cancer research on Friday night in honour of a beloved Halifax hockey coach battling the disease.

Just seconds after Tom Lee dropped the puck in a ceremonial opening faceoff, fans came out of their seats in a standing ovation for the Saint Mary’s University assistant coach.

Lee was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma in 2008 and was forced to step away from coaching this year.

The players said the way he has bravely fought back inspired them to call the game against arch-rival Acadia University "Tom Strong" night.

“It's my 18th year coaching and I played professionally and I don't think I've ever seen any coach have this strong of a bond with his players,” said coach Trevor Stienburg.

'This team, this sport — it's part of my soul.'- Tom Lee

The Huskies wore special jerseys for the game in Lee's honour. He underwent a bone marrow transplant in the fall and said his health is starting to improve.

"As of now my bone marrow is clean. ... I was O-positive and now I'm an A-negative blood type which means I've taken the blood type of my donor and it was my blood type that carried the cancer. So those are all positive signs,” said Lee.

More than 3,000 fans showed up for the game, with the proceeds going towards the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada.

“This team, this sport — it's part of my soul,” said Lee. “When I was away from it there was a piece missing. They tried to fill it up with texts and well wishes, but coming here just filled that void."

Huskies captain Lucas Bloodoff said it was great to have their coach back at the rink.

"Tom, he's going through this big struggle, but you know God gives his toughest battles to his strongest warriors and that's Tom in a nutshell right there,” he said.

Lee couldn't stay for the game. He said his treatments leave him fatigued and there was a risk he could pick up an infection.

Acadia won the game 5 to 2.