EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Bobby Ryan’s handpass was such a deftly executed toss that, in his estimation, should have been forgiven after Rob Scuderi batted the previously-gloved puck out of mid-air and past Jonas Hiller for a highlight goal. Though rich with personality, the goal was definitely illegal, even in a charity game – to the disappointment of Harlem Globetrotters fans everywhere.
“I thought it was legal,” Ryan said of the behind-the-net toss to a net-crashing Scuderi.
“I think anything under 10 seconds left in the period is legal. I think that’s the way it should be. I was a minus-nine tonight, so I’m going to count that and take it to a minus-8. We’re counting it.”
The Anaheim Ducks star took his lumps in the plus-minus department as part of a special charity event at the Toyota Sports Center, the front-office and training home of the Los Angeles Kings.
The charity hockey game, which featured Ducks, Kings, players from five other teams, and a recently retired Mike Comrie, raised an estimated $20,000 for the Twin Peaks Cancer Foundation and to help fund the Los Angeles Jr. Kings’ Pee Wee AAA 2000 team’s trip to Quebec City for the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Tournament.
“I played in that tournament when I was younger,” said Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene, a former West Michigan Warrior. “It’s something that’s huge for these kids to be able to get a chance to do it, and you want to hope that they have as smooth of a trip as they can, because it can be a big experience for a young hockey player.”
Funds were raised through admissions donations as well as a silent auction of NHL paraphernalia. Fans also donated money for the opportunity to drop the ceremonial first puck, sing the national anthem, and serve as an honorary coach behind the team benches. The Twin Peaks Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organization set up to provide funding for breast cancer education, early detection and research, was founded in remembrance of Jane Booge, an avid minor hockey supporter who passed away after a three-year struggle with metastatic breast cancer in September. Players wore black and white jerseys laced with pink ribbons.
“Anytime that there’s a crisis or anything like that, hockey players always come together,” said Brad Sholl, the general manager of the Toyota Sports Center and one of founders and promoters of the charity game. The event quickly spread through Southern California hockey circles, which sold out the Toyota Sports Center Bowl in search of premium hockey during the lockout.
“When we got the date, we had basically two weeks to really promote this thing, and with the pending lockout, you don’t know if it’s going to get resolved or not, so we’re always kind of looking at the clock, wondering if we’re going to make it. The good thing is that the (NHL) guys here have been buying the ice, so they’re here three days a week,” Sholl said.
“My son is actually on the Quebec Pee Wee team, and we always do a fundraiser every year for our Quebec team. I was going to mention it to the guys if they wanted to do a benefit game, and then one day, we’re sitting here talking, and they say, ‘Hey! We should do a benefit game!’ So we got together. There really were three of us. Chris Wozniak, myself and Kelly Sorensen. We just rolled up our sleeves and went to work at it, and I have to say that Jarret Stoll was a huge, huge benefit and a help to us. We would be texting him and calling him back and forth, and emailing, and he was surely a big part of this happening. He reached out to all these guys. For the guys to be here, it was really thanks to Jarret Stoll. But for these guys to show up and do this for us, it’s unbelievable. And you saw the crowd tonight – they were just hockey-starving.”
Stoll, Greene, Scuderi, Brad Richardson, Davis Drewiske, Dustin Penner, Trevor Lewis, Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford and Justin Williams were the Kings who took part, while the Ducks were represented by Ryan, Hiller, Ryan Getzlaf, Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin. Shane O’Brien (Colorado), Ryan Miller (Buffalo), Eric Nystrom (Dallas), Matt Moulson (New York Islanders) and Dion Phaneuf (Toronto) also took part, while Jonathan Quick, recuperating from offseason back surgery, watched from behind a bench. Many of the players who took part have been attending regular conditioning skates to stay sharp as the NHL lockout enters its ninth week.
“We all know each other around here, so it’s kind of just fire a quick text and email out, and these guys are such good guys that they just say they’re in right away,” Stoll explained. “So it’s not hard to get guys. . . . We’re all pretty close around here, so for charity, too – two great causes – we all like doing this kind of stuff, so it was pretty easy.”
Though accustomed to being heated divisional rivals in early November, Stoll exchanged practice information with Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf as an invitation to join forces and increase the quality of the conditioning.
“We need numbers, you know? We need numbers to have good drills, have good skates,” Stoll said. “There’s about 12 of us here that skate here three days a week. And if we get seven or eight of those guys to come down, it’ll be great.”
“I’ve played hockey as well, and I know that hockey players – they are one big family, so it really doesn’t surprise me at all,” Sholl said of the traditional rivals coming together for both charity and conditioning. “These guys, even in the regular season, you can battle each other on the ice. When the game’s over, the season’s over, you get together in golf tournaments and whatnot. No, it’s not a surprise, and my hat goes off again to these guys because obviously there’s always that little rivalry between Kings and Ducks, and we split the teams so that there were both guys on each team, and it worked out great.”
The uniting of Pacific Division rivals was highlighted both in Ryan’s attempted assist on Scuderi’s disallowed goal, but also in the unique situation of having previously played for a minor program aligned with a regional rival. To return as part of a charitable, community-minded event was special for Ryan, who enjoyed the rare trip back to the El Segundo practice facility that sprung up when he was a member of the Jr. Kings.
“I think it’s our way – for everybody – to give back in the part of something special. Being in Southern Calfiornia, more in Orange County, I don’t get to do things like this for that program very often, so it’s nice to be back. I mean, we started this rink, in I think 2000, when it opened. So it’s nice to be back in this building, and giving back in that way,” said Ryan, who won a pair of national championships with the Jr. Kings last decade.
Tanner Turcotte, a 12-year-old forward with the Jr. Kings, was born the year Ryan found success at the Quebec tournament and described the pride associated with seeing a former Junior King average over 32 goals per season through his first four seasons in the NHL.
“It gave me so much more confidence to use my moves and skills on the ice,” said Turcotte, who will be Quebec City-bound in February.
“They’re putting consistent, top-five teams in the nation out,” Ryan said. “It seems to start with the Pee-Wees here – number three, obviously, and then you’ve got the 2000s that are playing Midget Triple-A – they’re in the top-five as well. It speaks volumes to what the coaches have done over the last eight years, and how far the systems come. The ice is a little more available. Obviously, they’re putting out quality players, year in and year out. It’s great to see. It’s becoming a factory.”
The Anaheim Jr. Ducks have also emerged as a quality Tier-1 program and are ranked 11th in the same rankings that peg the Junior Kings third. It’s a promising regional development from Ryan’s days of playing pee-wee hockey, when his clubs were forced to play against older competition locally.
“The hockey wasn’t as good then. It is now. But it wasn’t then, and we were a Pee-Wee team that had to play against Bantam and Midget teams to get that kind of competition against older players. But it did prepare us. We won two national championships, obviously, so the hockey was good. Playing the older guys really helped us. But when you get to those international tournaments, I was playing against the teams that I actually played for back East, and it was incredible,” Ryan said.
“These kids have no clue what’s coming for ‘em. I hope they soak it all in, and I know they’re 12 and 13 years old, so it’s a little tough now, but it’s something that they’re going to remember, that’s for sure.”