Vancouver Canucks give big at UBC
Charities, fans, players all winners as Bieksa's Buddies down UBC Thunderbirds 8-7
B.C. Lion Paul McCallum drops the puck to start the game.
Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG
VANCOUVER — Besides the $200,000 raised for charity, the best thing about Kevin Bieksa’s charity hockey game Wednesday at the University of B.C. wasn’t the end-to-end shinny, the shootout or the standing ovation at the end.
The best part was when the game was over and 17 kids, ages about two to eight, stood on the ice in awe while receiving the shirt off the back from one of their heroes. The National Hockey League players who beat the UBC Thunderbirds 8-7, nearly all of them Canucks, took time to speak to the children and sign their jerseys and pose for photos.
Those minutes will last forever in memory for a lot of those kids. That’s the power professional athletes have. That’s what the sides risk as they bicker in this latest NHL lockout over how to divide $3.3 billion in annual revenue.
“We never forget about the fans,” Canuck Manny Malhotra insisted. “We never lose sight of that. From the outset of this lockout, it was the owners’ decision to lock us out, the owners decision to halt the season. But by no means are we as players going to forget the fans. You can see that through an event like this.”
A crowd of 5,000 people got the chance to scream and cheer their beloved Canucks, although one also jeered Cory Schneider when the new starting goalie was beaten cleanly on the first two shots he faced from student-athletes. And we’re pretty sure the heckler wasn’t Roberto Luongo, who was at Disney World. At least Vancouver’s goaltending neurosis wasn’t locked out.
But it was all in good fun. Bieksa’s brother Marty drew the winning lottery ticket and played with Daniel and Henrik Sedin when singer Michael Bublé uncharacteristically suffered stage fright — or a groin injury — and pulled out of the lineup.
But the global star, promoted as one of the headliners among Bieksa’s “buddies,” still got the loudest cheer of the night when it was announced he would match the gate receipts and donate $100,000 to the charities affiliated with the game.
All of them are associated with the hockey team that supports the lockout. Canuck Place, the Canucks Family Education Centre and the Canucks Autism Network will share more than $200,000 raised by Bieksa and his buddies.
If that generosity of spirit from Bieksa and his friends could somehow infuse NHL labour talks today in Toronto, the lockout would be over by the weekend. There is, however, little chance of that as the legal armies headed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Players’ Association boss Donald Fehr resume their battle of greed.
The ideals of Wednesday’s charity game are a stratosphere above the less savory aspects of human nature exposed by the inability of millionaire players and near-billionaire owners to divide a pot of gold.
Each side claims sympathy for the fans, but have shown little regard for them. The league, especially, seems to take the emotional and financial investment of its patrons for granted, as if they will always be there and have no choice but to return with full wallets when the lockout ends.
This dispute has been driven from the start by owners, from what amounted to Bettman’s declaration of war in July when he demanded another round of mammoth concessions from players who gave owners everything they said they needed during the last lockout.
But while the players have been dragged along in the dispute, they haven’t yet shown much effort to end it.
That’s why Wednesday mattered. It was the chance for NHL players to offer something other than rhetoric or indignation, to play for the enjoyment of others and raise money for groups that need it far more they do.
And, truth be told, the players themselves got something out of it: the chance to unwind and play again for an appreciative crowd after enduring since August a seemingly endless and pointless routine of gym workouts and skating sessions at UBC in the expectation there will be NHL hockey to play soon.
It wasn’t even close to NHL hockey Wednesday. It probably wasn’t close to university hockey, either. But it was fun and freewheeling and, if any of the marquee participants needed it, a reminder how privileged they are to play for living, sponsored by fans who adore them.
“You know what?” Malhotra said. “It’s just fun to play in front of fans again. We’re creatures of habit and this is what we should be doing and normally are doing this time of year. You can practise and work out as much as you want, but nothing’s the same as playing a game.”
The score was an afterthought, although it probably started to mean more to the pros in the second period when the university kids pumped four straight past Schneider to give the Thunderbirds a 7-3 lead. No one likes to be embarrassed, even for a good cause.
Ben Schmidt from Campbell River and Nate Fleming of St. Albert, Alta., each scored two goals for UBC. Bieksa’s Buddies scored five times in the third period to win it.
“It was fun just to think about hockey for a night,” Schneider said. “It felt like a game.”
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