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Bobby Ryan and Mark Borowiecki of the Ottawa Senators visiting the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Photo: Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia)
Back in 2005—that’s 13 years ago—Mike Brophy was still the Senior Writer for the Hockey News. In February of that year his feature article was: “Greedy? Try Again”. Essentially it was an answer to the countless accusations that NHL’ers are “greedy”. This perennial complaint, of course, was not without merit. The average salary in the world’s premier league was $1.8 million per season. Yet that season was cancelled because of the strike/lockout—with money being the central issue of the work stoppage.
That shinny scribe essentially bypassed that issue; but rather chose to present a counterpart to the seemingly obvious mindset about the pay-for-play fraternity. He appealed to the “vast amount of charity work pro athletes do”—then continued with his focus on the world of hockey, with: “NHL players are famous for giving both time and money to people in need!”
Naturally he focused on skaters who were in the spotlight at that time. He highlighted the fact that Detroit goalie, Curtis Joseph, alone had raised more than $2 million in recent years for the Hospital for Sick Children cancer ward.
He added that “Cujo” was not alone in such ventures, revealing that Brad Richards of the Lightning spearheaded a charity called “Richy’s Rascals”. Through that venture he had raised $250,000 in two years for underprivileged children, and arranged for them to attend Tampa Bay home games. He has also been keenly involved in raising funds for children stricken with cancer—and autism.
Perhaps the player who gains the most publicity—currently, at least—is P.K. Subban, who seems to invite recognition in the public eye, regardless of what he is about. He is anything but a shrinking violet, both on and off the ice. It was back in 2015 when he first announced his pledge to raise $10 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. In 2016, he was involved in the signing of 500 “Just for Laughs” jerseys, which brought $199.00 each to the Foundation. $130,000 was realized for the cause.
This past August he arranged a Caribbean theme gala in Montreal, personally returning from Nashville to continue his support. 30% of the target of $10 million has been reached.
During the “Original 6” era, players’ salaries were just a fraction of the outlandish pay cheques demanded by modern players. In fact, virtually all pucksters found it necessary to seek summer employment to meet their financial needs.
Still, philanthropy was alive and well, dating back to the 20th century teen years. In these cases it was usually team efforts, rather than that of individuals.
When the NHL was formed in 1917, president Calder announced that each team would pay an undisclosed levy from its gate receipts to support the Red Cross. Any time a pro team donated proceeds from money realized from the turnstiles, it was sometimes spoken of as a “patriotic” game.
That same spirit prevailed during the Second World War as well. For instance, in February of 1942 the Boston Bruins sponsored a game pitting the League “All Stars” against “Cooney” Weiland’s Bruins. The former included such greats a “Bun” Cook, Eddie Shore, and “Tiny” Thompson, while the rest of the Hub squad sported the Beantown togs. Some $18,000 was realized for the Army Relief Fund. A year later, Art Ross announced that four regular season home game’s gate receipts would be targeted for the benefit of the Red Cross. The $47,200, which was taken in, missed the mark, but still enabled this most essential organization to carry out its humanitarian services on the field of battle and in hospitals.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, in a different venue, in a different era, have been involved in a similar way, spearheaded by the team’s founder, Major Conn Smythe. On March 13, 1952, he organized the first Sport’s Celebrities Dinner. On that occasion, $10,800 was raised for the Easter Seals campaign, with crippled children being the beneficiaries. In 2018, the 68th gala raised $340,000 for the same charity.
For years, those children with physical disabilities have been represented by a child nicknamed “Timmy”—then a “Tammy”—for the special occasion.
Old Timers hockey matches drew an amazing number of fans. In 1950, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens former stars played two games, watched by 25,000 fans! $19,200 was realized for flood and fire victims of that year.
An unlimited number of charity softball games in which NHL players participated copiously benefited charitable organizations. In August 1959, those same two contingents took to the diamond. Leafs got back at their chief rivals, the Canadiens, by outhitting them to the tune of 11-8. Children with disabilities were the real winners. Golf tournaments that included those same NHL’ers were marked off on countless calendars.
NHL teams continue to be involved in philanthropic endeavours. Many of them have “foundations”, which are continually working to raise funds for community needs. The Calgary Flames, for instance, pinpoint education, health, and medical research. In 2017, they realized over $4 million to be funnelled into meeting those needs.
The New York Rangers’ counterpart targets homeless children, by setting up foster homes, battling poverty and illness. They have managed to raise $350,000 since 2006 for these worthy causes.
Back in 1935, there was a charitable endeavour that was neither “fish nor fowl”—it wasn’t spearheaded by an individual or an organization. On April 16 two of the game’s most respected personalities, in cooperation with the Lions Club, arranged a charity hockey game in Ottawa. The competitors manned teams named after Tommy Gorman and Frankie Boucher. The latter was still mobile and donned the colours of the St. Louis Eagles, along with other notables, like Syd Howe, “King” Clancy, and Hec Kilrea. Gorman coached stars like Bill Cowley, Alex Connell, and Dave Trottier. They were loaned red, white, and black sweaters by the Ottawa QAHA amateurs. The latter team came out on top by a 11-4 count.
Somewhat the same scenario was featured on April 21, 1968. The Charlie Conacher Memorial Fund game at Maple Leaf Gardens highlighted the Toronto Old Timers facing off against the Canadiens counterparts. For this charity match, the Queen City line-up included goalies Broda, Lumley, and Rollins, with the old time duo of Thompson and Mortson joining Bob Goldham at the blueline. “Teeder” Kennedy, Syl Apps and Sid Smith would be part of the forward contingent. Coach Primeau was trying to use the old Chicago “Pony Line” of Doug and Max Bentley with Bill Mosienko to strengthen his squad. The Habs countered with skaters like Bouchard, the “Rocket”, and Elmer Lach—while Plante stood between the uprights.
With the onslaught of the Great Depression, there was very little loose change in any pockets and, apart from the aforementioned “patriotic” donations, philanthropy was rather threadbare in the hockey world. It wasn’t until the cessation of worldwide hostilities that money was freed up to meet other than personal needs.
Ted Lindsay was one of the best-known skaters in the 1940’s and 1950’s. His hard-nosed approach to the game, and the resulting price he paid for his bombastic play, led to the nickname, “scar face”. But in his retirement, it was his heart which made the headlines. With a continuing interest in the needs of children and adults with autism, he established a foundation to support the Autism Outreach Services. To this date the organization has been able to raise $1 million toward this worthy cause!
One of the first shinny icons to make headlines with his charitable efforts was Montreal superstar, Jean Beliveau. A true gentleman on and off the ice, several younger teammates, including Guy Lafleur, praised him for his assistance in their adjustment to the NHL. He also was involved in charitable efforts. In 1971, he established the Jean Beliveau Foundation. Starting small, his first project was to purchase an ambulance to serve children going to Camp Papillon. It was also his first association with the Quebec Society for Disabled Children. Since that initial project. $1.2 million has been realized for this cause.
No one ever changed the face of the game in the same way Parry Sound’s Bobby Orr did, particularly when it came to the approach to playing defense. Many contend that he is the best NHL’er of all time. He and teammate Phil Esposito made the Boston Bruins a dominant force in the 1970’s. Number four joined with Espo in championing the latter’s foundation, the chief end being to assist former pro skaters who have fallen on hard times.
But on his own, Orr has also lent his support in assisting First Nations youth to have both equipment and training in Canada’s National Sport. As well, he sponsors an annual skate-a-thon on behalf of Easter Seals. In 1983 it raised $65,000.
In 1973, Stan Mikita was approached by Chicago businessman Irv Tiahnybik about founding a school for the hearing impaired. So enthused was he about this charity that it was said of him “he spent as much time supporting this effort as he did in his hockey interests”. The institution is still in operation, and former NHL’er Tony Granato, became heavily involved in recent years.
Players from the 80’s were no less busy in philanthropy. Lanny McDonald was an active supporter of the Special Olympics programme. Barry Beck worked with United Neighbourhood Housing seeking to assist underprivileged children; while teammate Nick Fotiu established a foundation, the aim of which is to provide athletic facilities for those same kids.
Bernie Parent founded the Bernie Parent Eye Bank, the purpose of which is to facilitate the restoration of sight, arranging for the matching of donors and recipients.
Hospitals have often been the beneficiaries of community-minded skaters. For instance, Pat Lafontaine championed “Companions in Courage”, building interactive playrooms in children’s hospitals all over North America is its main focus, called “Lion’s Den”. Through videos and internet services it allows communication with those in other facilities.
Mario Lemieux, in partnership with his wife, built children’s playrooms in local hospitals.
Trevor Linden, a 20-year member of NHL teams, best remembered with the Vancouver Canucks, received the Order of Canada, the highest honour which can be bestowed upon a civilian. His hospital-related Foundation zeroes in on supporting children and families facing life-threatening illnesses in British Columbia.
While he was with the Washington Capitals, Mike Gartner had a novel way of raising money for the local children’s hospital. From the time he started, he donated $1000 for every goal he scored. By November 20, 1987 he had managed a $41,000 gift for this worthy cause. He also encouraged fans and corporations to add their donations after the same fashion. 28 years later Jarome Iginla followed suit, with his $1000 per marker going to Kidsport in Alberta, as well as Shoot for a Cure, which specialized on spinal research.
With increased salaries, in fact, philanthropy has soared among pucksters. The amount donated and the beneficiaries vary greatly. Paul Kariya pledged $2 million to California charities when he signed with Anaheim. Eric Lindros gave $5 million to the London, Ontario Health Centre when he retired. Both Saku Koivu and Vince Lecavalier set cancer research as their target.
Jose Theodore, Wade Redden, Alex Ovechkin, the Sedin twins, and even the tempestuous Tie Domi, loosened their purse strings for the benefit of the needy.
Without a doubt, the strangest charitable act involved the mercenary-minded Alexei Yashin. In 2013, he pledged $1 million to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa—an “act of appreciation to the city” where he was playing hockey. However, it wasn’t long until he pulled the plug on the commitment. Apparently the NAC blew the whistle on him. He planned to spread the donation over five years, enabling him to claim a huge tax deduction. All’s well that ends well—but that did not end well!
Countless pay-for-play hockeyists, consciously or unconsciously, bought into Thomas Fuller’s philosophy — “Charity begins at home, but should not end there!” And more individuals, hospitals, and unfortunates continue to be grateful.
Thanks to Jean-Patrice Martel and Kevin Vautour for their assistance in this and the previous columns
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