EL SEGUNDO, CA — The familiar sounds of skates flying across the ice, tape-to-tape passes, and pucks clanking off goal posts filled the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California on the evening of November 9, when 24 current or retired National Hockey League players hit the ice for a charity hockey game benefitting the Los Angeles Jr. Kings Pee-Wee AAA 2000 team and the Twin Peaks Cancer Foundation.
The vast majority of the players involved have been working out in the Southern California area during the current NHL lockout. Some of them included Kyle Clifford, Matt Greene, Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll from the Los Angeles Kings, and Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Sheldon Souray from the Anaheim Ducks.
Also appearing were Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, Shane O’Brien of the Colorado Avalanche, Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars, Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders, and Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fans who packed the Toyota Sports Center saw an entertaining game, if not a full-intensity, NHL-caliber contest.
“The Toyota Sports Center only seats 500 people,” said Stoll, who was one of the primary organizers of the event. “It’s not huge, but it was great to see it full.”
“Guys are having fun,” said Kings right wing Justin Williams. “We were trying hard to put on a little show, and we’re happy so many people came out to watch. It’s a very good cause, and it’s the closest thing we’ve played to a game since Game 6 [of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final]. It was fun to get out there.”
“We didn’t put on a great show,” Stoll said with a grin. “But at least the fans got to see, maybe their favorite player. It was just a good event, and I’m sure they raised a lot of money for two great causes. That’s why you do these types of things, and for us, if we can do what we love to do at the same time, it’s a bonus.”
Indeed, there was just one NHL-caliber hit in the game—Stoll on O’Brien, and a total of 15 goals scored…there was no defense to speak of, and the players were obviously not at full speed, not that anyone should have expected them to be. But what happened on the ice was not the real story.
Rather, the focus was on why the players were on the ice in the first place.
“These benefit games have happened all over Canada, and on much larger scales,” said Kelly Sorenson, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Jr. Kings. “We felt we could put some time and effort into this, and raise some money for two great causes, the first of which is the Twin Peaks Cancer Foundation, a Stage 4 breast cancer awareness foundation, and for our Pee-Wee AAA team that goes to an international tournament in Quebec each year.”
Sorenson added that the families of the players face a considerable financial burden each year due to the fact that the team travels to tournaments across the United States, and plays each year in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament.
“The money is used to offset the financial burden families have to go to through to go on that trip,” he noted. “Typically, for one parent and their child to go to the tournament in Quebec, the cost ranges from $2,800 to $3,000, and that’s just one travel event that this particular team has over the course of a season.”
“They play in local SCAHA (Southern California Amateur Hockey Association) and CAHA (California Amateur Hockey Association) leagues, and then they travel to four out-of-state tournaments each season, in addition to the Quebec tournament,” he added. “To raise money for this team and help those families with their travel costs is a big benefit for us all.”
“These boys were all born in 2000, and they’re ranked third in the country. They just got back from the Warrior tournament in Michigan, where they won the tournament. We’re looking for them to do a good job for us in Quebec.”
Proceeds from the event will also go to an even more important cause: breast cancer research and education.
“Twin Peaks was formed to help raise awareness for early detection of breast cancer,” said Kevin Josephson, who handles outreach and marketing for the Twin Peaks Cancer Foundation. “If you catch it early, you have a chance to beat it. The statistics really support that.”
“I’m an avid golfer, and one of my dear friends is part of the [Los Angeles Jr. Kings] program here,” Josephson explained. “He introduced me to Kelly Sorenson. I asked Kelly, ‘what do you do for fundraising?’ He said that they sell Christmas trees, and other kinds of things.’”
Josephson had a better idea.
“I told him that I was going to hook them up with Twin Peaks, because it’s going to help them raise funds for [their hockey program], but it’s also going to go to a great cause—fighting breast cancer, and helping with early detection and education,” he said. “To get these kids, at such a young age, to be aware of something that’s affecting all of us, that’s really a big deal.”
Brad Sholl, general manager of the Toyota Sports Center, worked with Sorenson to help get the players on board.
“Brad Sholl has a good relationship with a lot of the Kings players, and the Los Angeles Jr. Kings, which is headquartered at the Toyota Sports Center,” said Sorenson. “He saw an opportunity to gather some of the local NHL players who do their off-season training here, live out here during the summer, and to put together a benefit event like this.”
Sholl contacted Stoll, who had an easy time getting players to participate.
“Brad Sholl, and a couple of others from the Toyota Sports Center approached us,” Stoll noted. “They wanted to do something, since we’re all here [working out during the NHL lockout]. There’s 24 of us here in the L.A. area, so it was a good chance for us to do something for charity, getting us all together to play a game.”
“For guys to get on the ice again, it was a no-brainer,” Stoll added. “It was very easy. Everyone was like, ‘I’m in, I’m in, I’m in!’ Everybody loves doing this kind of stuff, and that’s the kind of character all these guys have.”
“We’re all trying to get ready, at some point, for the season. If we can raise money at the same time, for a couple of good causes, that’s what it’s all about.”
As Stoll stated earlier, the players did not put on the greatest show on Earth. But they didn’t have to, as that certainly wasn’t the point.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Josephson. “I’m so thrilled. This thing sold out so fast.”
“It’s been a stellar evening,” Sorenson beamed, as he scanned the packed Toyota Sports Center. “To see this place filled to the rafters on a Friday night—we’re so pleased.”
“We’ve sold over 500 tickets [just in the bleachers; more seats were available upstairs at a lower price], and we’re very pleased with the response that we’ve had on the auction items (autographed memorabilia),” Sorenson added. “It’s just a win-win for everybody involved. It’s been a great experience.”
At press time, the Los Angeles Jr. Kings had not announced the amount raised at the event.
Despite being overjoyed at the turnout, Sorenson expressed sentiments shared by hockey fans everywhere.
“I know [the players are] all having a good time out there, but let’s get them back on [NHL] ice, sooner rather than later,” he stressed.
Williams expressed guarded optimism about the possibility of the NHL and NHLPA reaching an agreement soon.
“I’m optimistic any time they talk,” he said. “It’s always a good sign when they talk. We’ll just wait and see. Our guys [on the NHLPA negotiating committee] are doing their due diligence. We’re waiting for the right deal.”
“We’ve got some fun moments ahead of us, but we also know that we’ve got a big target on our back as well,” he added. “Whenever it does get going, we’ll be ready, and certainly, well rested.”
The fact that the fan response was so overwhelming was another strong indication of how badly they want their game back on the ice.
“[The fans] want the game back just as much as we do, and we have some fun moments ahead of us,” Williams noted. “The banner raising ceremony, Stanley Cup rings. We’re aching to get it going, too.”
“Everybody wants the game back,” said Stoll. “The players want to play, the fans want to see the game. They love the game. It’s a great game. That said, there’s a lot of things that need to be worked out, and we’re not there yet.”
“We’re not close. Hopefully, we can figure things out in the next two weeks. There’s a long ways to go.”