ANAHEIM, CA — With National Hockey League players idled by a lockout that is now in its 92nd day, and with no end in sight, some Southern California players decided to put some of their unwanted spare time to good use on December 14, 2012, when they skated in a charity game at The Rinks – Anaheim Ice, benefitting the Jr. Ducks Pee Wee AAA team (11 and 12-year olds), and Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC).
The game was a four-on-four contest with a lot of goals, no defense, half-speed skating (if that), and not a whole lot of goaltending, which is par for the course for similar charity/exhibition games.
But a packed house, filled with raucous fans, made all the noise one might expect at an NHL game whenever a goal was scored, or when one of the few big saves was made.
A team consisting of Anaheim Ducks players, including Bryan Allen, Francois Beauchemin, Jonas Hiller, Ryan Getzlaf, Tony Lydman, Teemu Selanne, and Brad Staubitz, along with Florida Panthers forward (and a former Ducks and Los Angeles Kings player) George Parros, won the game, 10-6.
Their opponents were a team made up of Kings players, including Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis, Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi and Justin Williams, along with St. Louis Blues defenseman Kent Huskins, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf, and Panthers left wing Scottie Upshall.
Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray and Kings defenseman Matt Greene (minor injury) were originally scheduled to participate, but did not play in the game.
Getzlaf turned out to be the big star, scoring four goals. But the result was clearly not the story.
“We’re [raising] money for CHOC, something everyone cares a lot about,” said Beauchemin, the primary organizer from the players side. “It’s [also] great to raise some money for the Pee Wee AAA team that’s going to Quebec City [to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament].”
“I’ve heard a lot about that tournament,” added Beauchemin. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to [play in] it back when I played Pee Wee, but it’s one of the best Pee Wee tournaments in the world. I’m sure the kids are going to enjoy their trip up there.”
After seeing the Jr. Kings put on a highly successful charity game on November 9, at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, just up the 405 freeway, the Jr. Ducks could not pass up the opportunity.
“We came up with this [about three] weeks ago,” Beauchemin explained. “Bill Fischer came to me and asked if we wanted to do [this]. That was right after we played in the game for the Jr. Kings team.”
“The idea came from when the [Jr. Kings] did it,” Beauchemin elaborated. “People here in Anaheim wanted to do the same thing for the Jr. Ducks players who are going to Quebec.”
“There have been multiple [charity] games, from Windsor, Ontario, to the Jr. Kings,” said Fischer, the Director of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County Charity Game. “Our kids, playing Tier 1 hockey—it’s very expensive. Being in Southern California, we have to travel throughout the country, so this is a way of [helping to offset] the costs, and at the same time, raising money for CHOC, which is a great cause.”
One aspect of this charity game that differed from the game sponsored by the Jr. Kings was that the kids got to skate with the NHL players during warm-ups, which was clearly a big thrill for them.
Prior to the warm-up skate, some of the young players talked about the opportunity.
“[I’m looking forward to] skating with the players, and having fun out there,” said Jamie Cates, a twelve-year-old player with the Jr. Ducks Pee Wee AAA team. “My favorite player is Ryan Miller.”
“[I came to see] Dion Phaneuf,” said twelve-year-old Jr. Ducks Pee Wee AAA defenseman Hunter Michael Sansbury. “We both wear number 3. He’s a defenseman and he’s one of my favorite players. He’s a great hitter.”
For the game, the two squads had Kings and Ducks separated between them, but there was no rivalry on this night. In fact, there was no mention or thought about the teams at all.
“We’re representing ourselves, as hockey players, and our community,” Getzlaf stressed. “Those are things we take pride in. We don’t necessarily need a team to get us out to these events, and we’re here because we’re players, and we’re human beings who care about these causes. We’re happy to be here tonight.”
“For hockey players, generally speaking, when you’re off the ice, everybody gets along,” Getzlaf added. “That’s the one benefit we have, and guys are all out to support things. We went up there to support their [Jr. Kings] hockey program, and [the Kings players] were more than willing to come down here and help us.”
“Fortunately, we’re able to put something like this together so we can raise some money for CHOC—some of it is probably missed because of what [the Ducks normally] do during the season.”
For Penner, the game was an opportunity to reunite with a charity he was already very familiar with.
“It’s always great to help a charity, especially CHOC,” he said. “I’ve been involved with them before [while he played for the Ducks]. It’s a chance to give back, and I think, more times than not, you’ll find most athletes and hockey players jumping at the chance to do something like this.”
Prior to the game, Penner was in a jovial mood, as he often is. He offered some pointed jabs at Getzlaf, and joked that he might take a run at him during the game.
“Anytime you can get into the lineup against Getzlaf, it’s a good day,” Penner said with a grin.
But Penner’s mood was more serious a few minutes earlier, when the most important reason he was participating in the game hit home.
“I just met a girl who’s been battling cancer for eight years, and she’s only 21,” said Penner. “Things like that really touch your heart.”
Playing in front of a rather boisterous crowd that filled all available seats was encouraging for the players, in light of the fact that the NHL is still off the ice.
“It shows that people still have an interest in the game, and in what’s going on, as well as the causes that we’re supporting,” said Getzlaf. “Those are positive things in a world where there’s not a lot of positive talk about hockey.”
When the final horn sounded, as the players skated off to their dressing rooms, and as fans made their way out of the building, one thing was already very clear: the event was a big hit, and in more ways than one.
“It was a huge success,” said Fischer. “We had between 500 and 650 paying customers, and we had a lot of money raised from the raffle, silent auction, [and the sale of autographed memorabilia].”
“Just seeing the fans’ reaction to the game, and to seeing hockey at a high level again was refreshing, not to mention seeing the excitement on the players’ faces, being back on their natural element,” added Fischer. “Overall, [seeing] the fans having a good time, the goals being scored, and the autographs being signed, it was a huge success. It met and exceeded our expectations.”
On Monday morning (December 17), Fischer said that between ticket sales, a raffle, and a silent auction, the event raised $33,859, with the Jr. Ducks and CHOC splitting the proceeds.
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