A Big Assist

NHL Players Continue To Embrace The Impact They Have On Their Communities

“To whom much is given, much will be required.”


Being a professional athlete comes with many perks, from a hefty paycheck to living out a childhood dream in front of adoring fans.


While a big goal or timely save can help lead their team to victory, their biggest contributions are often not measured on the scoreboard or in the win/loss column.


NHL players not only serve as role models for youngsters aspiring to one day follow in their heroes’ skate tracks, they inspire entire communities.


A team’s on-ice performance and off-ice presence, such as the Vegas Golden Knights support in the wake of the tragic shooting days before their inaugural season began, can lift a city’s spirits and provide a sense of light during dark times.


Their contributions in the community, usually performed away from the glare of the media spotlight, can be even more important and have a lasting impact on lives of young fans and families who need them most.


For Ottawa Senators winger Ryan Dzingel, a recent goodwill gesture may seem small on the surface but it touched the hearts and souls of one family who desperately needed it most.


Dzingel met 13-year-old Jacob Randall one night in an Ottawa restaurant and had a lengthy conversation with the youngster who had recently received the terrible news that the brain cancer he thought was in remission had returned with a vengeance.


To make matters worse, Jacob’s younger sister, Sophia, was diagnosed with a similar form of the disease.


The Wheaton, Ill., native invited Jacob and his family to a Senators game and introduced them to the team afterwards. A moment, caught on camera and shared on the team’s website, not only resonated with the Randall family but throughout the hockey community.


“Having an impact, with Jacob, that’s very special to me,” Dzingel said. “The most important thing to me in playing hockey is to take care of my family and to help the people that I can help, to make an impact. That’s how I was raised. It’s something that I love to do and it gives me a reason to play.”

The giving spirit doesn’t stop with Dzingel, who’s off to a strong start with seven points in eight games in his fourth season with the Senators.


Bobby Ryan and his wife have hosted a suite since 2014 for “Bobby’s All-Star Kids,” giving the opportunity for kids from various children’s charities to take in a Senators home game.


“It’s a very small thing, but it means everything,” said the Cherry Hill, N.J. native. “Having the chance to meet the kids, get their feedback, sometimes it’s through letters that they leave in the box or gifts [or] whatever it might be. The impact that you have where you can change a person’s night and give them a little bit of hope in some darker times and what they’re going through. … It’s a very small thing but it means the world to my wife and I.”


An NHL campaign can be long and grueling, and having a chance to get involved in the community gives players a chance to decompress and meet those who cheer them on night after night. It can also help players put things into perspective, especially after a bad game or a string of tough luck. It also reminds them that hockey is just a small niche, but one that transcends borders.


That was evident when the Tim Horton’s restaurant chain came to the aid of a Kenyan ice hockey team, that due to the small exposure to the sport, are unable to play against opposing teams. They were flown to Ontario where they played a game against a team of local volunteer firefighters. However, the Kenyan team had a few extra weapons in their arsenal in the form of superstars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, who surprised the grateful squad.


“It was awesome,” said MacKinnon, one of the league’s rising young stars. “It was a really cool thing we did. Sid and I have never done anything like that. Playing with hockey players from Kenyan was really special, it’s not going to come around all the time. It’s cool though, hockey has given me a lot in my life and [giving back] is a major thing.”


Having the platform to help raise the spirits of their communities, whether a single kid or team, isn’t something that most players take for granted.

Sven Andrighetto and his pal LillianSven Andrighetto and his pal Lillian

“Having this platform, we’ve got to use it and take advantage of it,” said Avalanche forward Sven Andrighetto. “[I’m] trying to give back as much as I can. I never forget where I’m coming from, you’ve always got to stay humble.”


Like Dzingel and the Randall family, Andrighetto has developed a meaningful bond with Lillian, a young Avs fan.


“It means a lot to these kids, and it means a lot to me,” said the Swiss native. “Just in general, giving back to the community is huge, because I know when I was a kid, I looked up to these guys and I’ll never forget that. Now I’m at this point and I always want to be there for them.”


As the NHL looks to market its young stars as the future of its game, it’s important for the rookies to get off on the right foot as they venture out into the community. To their credit, most don’t hesitate, but rather embrace their role and understand their impact.


“It’s huge anytime you get an opportunity to get involved,” said Senators 21-year-old forward Colin White. “The other day we went out with some special needs kids and it was pretty special for us to go out there with them.


"Putting a smile on their face. Anytime we can do that or get out in the community it’s great.”

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