Whitehorse welcomes NHLers at charity game

While NHL clubs are losing heaps of money due to the league's ongoing lockout, charities, Yukon hockey fans and players were benefitting from it on Wednesday.

While NHL clubs are losing heaps of money due to the league’s ongoing lockout, charities, Yukon hockey fans and players were benefitting from it on Wednesday.

Eleven NHL players came up to Whitehorse to play in the First Assist Charity Hockey Fundraiser Classic at Takhini Arena.

It was the fourth and final stop on the First Assist Charity hockey tour.

“It’s been fantastic,” said tour organizer John Chabot. “From the three days of organization for our first game in which we drew in 4,000 people to today with 1,700 people in a building that holds exactly that amount, you can’t ask for anything more.

“Every community we’ve gone to, the people have applauded what we are trying to do.”

RELATED:View the slideshow of the event.

Wednesday’s game, which had the NHLers divided between two teams, was exciting for fans. It was absolutely thrilling for some local up-and-comers.

To get numbers up to an amount that would allow for two lines on each team, players from Whitehorse’s Midget A and Bantam A Mustangs rep teams saw ice-time in the game.

“We’re all excited to play with some of our heroes that we grew up watching,” said Midget A Mustangs captain Mike Arnold. “To watch these guys play and see how good they got is inspirational to us because it shows how good you have to be the get there. It inspires us to keep trying and maybe become them one day.”

Some elite rec league players also got to share the ice and benches with the visiting NHLers.

The game ended with a score of 6-5, but not every goal was scored by the pros.

Whitehorse’s Evan Campbell, who played four years of Junior B hockey, one-timed a pass from Whitehorse’s Kane Dawe and got a puck past Ottawa Senator goalie Craig Anderson.

“Obviously I’ll remember that for a while,” said Campbell. “Ottawa is my favourite team, so it’s nice to score on him.”

“I think it’s a big thrill for them to be on the ice with us,” said Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, “and for us to be able to give back and have some fun with it lightens the mood from a lot of the negative talk surrounding the lockout.

“I have family in Dawson City and I’ve planned for years to try and get up there. It’s not going to happen this trip. I’ve had such a great time on this one with my son, I’d love to bring my whole family and go up there.”

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The hockey tour included games in Cornwall, Ontario, and in Yellowknife and Inuvik, N.W.T. (A game scheduled for Thunder Bay, Ontario, last week was cancelled.)

“Depending on what happens with the lockout, we might try to schedule a couple more,” said Chabot, a former NHL player and coach.

Other visiting NHLers include Ottawa Senators Marc Methot, Guillaume Latendresse, Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Peter Regin; Winnipeg Jets Grant Clitsome and Jim Slater; Detroit Red Wings Jordin Tootoo; and Adam Courchaine, who was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in 2003 and currently plays for the DEG Metro Stars in the German Ice Hockey League.

Originally, Chabot was hoping to bring 20-24 NHL players for the event, but numbers dropped for various reasons.

“Some players went to Europe, some players got hurt,” said Chabot. “We had a couple guys who just opted out … We had one American guy who went home for Thanksgiving – he hadn’t been with his family for 17 years.

“We wanted more players but it worked out the way it did.”

The tour, which is a fundraiser for Chabot’s First Assist Charity, fell into place rather quickly. Whitehorse was only added to the tour two weeks ago. A stop in Hay River was cancelled to make time for the game in Whitehorse.

First Assist Charity uses hockey to connect with at-risk aboriginal youth in the North, promoting the importance of education.

It’s a charity that hits close to home for Tootoo, who is the first Inuk member to play in the NHL and the first Nunavut native to reach the big show.

“It’s great to be a role model for a lot of these young guys coming up,” said Tootoo. “I was in their shoes once upon a time. For me to chat with the kids, put a smile on their faces, makes me happy. I’m just another northern boy who’s living his dream.”

Over 1,400 tickets, at $50 apiece, were sold for Wednesday’s game. Half of the profits go to the First Assist Charity, with the other half going to the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association (WMHA) and the Whitehorse Food Bank.

It’s too early to say how much money was raised by the event, said WMHA president Carl Burgess.

“There are expenses; it’s not all volunteer driven,” said Burgess. “We are splitting (the funds raised) with the First Assist initiative, which has the connections to bring these guys up.

“I think we’re going to do fantastic and we’re looking forward to investing that money, first into the food bank – it’s great timing ahead of Christmas – and secondly, into Whitehorse Minor Hockey. We have some investments we’d like to make in hockey development, and this buys us a little more opportunity. We’re always struggling with keeping registration as affordable as possible for everybody.”

Chabot was also unable to estimate how much money was raised for his charity with the tour.

“We talked to Yellowknife and they’re still doing their numbers,” said Chabot. “After the game, we’ll sit around and figure out how much they got here. They’ll take their 50 per cent and they’ll invest it in their community and I’ll take my 50 per cent and invest it in my initiative and First Nation kids will benefit.

“I thank the people from all the communities we’ve visited. The Whitehorse people have been fantastic.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com

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