What better way to start your New Year’s Eve celebration than with an All-Star hockey game and fundraiser for Special Olympics Alaska?
With stands filled with family, friends and old acquaintances all there to watch their favorite players and raise some money for a great cause. The roster was filled with familiar names of hockey stars from Chugiak and Eagle River – some who have been shining bright since 1983 (Pete McEnaney) and more recently, 2011 (Ben Russell).
The All-Star teams were formed by the regular season captains, but I’m sure you can see a theme in the team names and sponsors.
Team USA featured players from Pizza Man and Homesteaders, while Team Mexico’s players came from Garcia’s and Jalapenos.
In an afternoon of special events, something really different got things started, a skills competition pitting the teams against each other featured five categories: Fastest Skater, Hardest Shot, Breakaway Challenge, Shooting Accuracy and Team Relay.
The excitement built as the players raced around the rink navigating obstacles and letting loose with slap shots banging off the boards. Cheers from the crowd rewarded the goalies as they made acrobatic saves from shots fired from some of the best players Eagle River-Chugiak has ever seen.
- Fastest Skater: Team USA: Jesse Johnson – 22 seconds
- Hardest Shot: Team USA: Brett Siegel – 80 mph
- Shot Accuracy: Team Mexico: Justin Martin – 2 of 4 targets
- Breakaway Challenge: Team USA: Goalie Keven Rodgers – 3 of 4 shots.
- Team Relay: Team Mexico – Combined time 1:43:25
The final tally for the skills competition:
- Team USA: 6
- Team Mexico: 4
Even the intermissions were exciting. After resurfacing the ice, a check for $2,000.00 from event sponsor Delta Western Petroleum was presented at center ice to Sage Caswell, a representative from Special Olympics, and our own Bobby Hill, Special Olympics champion athlete, and local legend.
Team USA’s Powell Gallagher, an employee of Delta Western Petroleum, was instrumental in securing the sponsorship for the event, and I caught up with him following the game.
“Steve Glines approached me a while back and asked if I could help him find a sponsor. He didn’t know I was going right to home base. I talked to my boss, told him the cause, Special Olympics of Alaska. Our company is big on community, helping out and putting in. We were lucky enough to sponsor the event, putting a nice $2,000.00 check toward Bobby and all of the athletes of Special Olympics, making a positive impact on the community of Eagle River.”
After the presentation, the feature event started with a ceremonial puck drop by none other than the Horseman himself, Bobby Hill, much to the delight of the hometown crowd.
Normally, an All-Star charity event is a little more relaxed, more passing and less intense than regular season games. Not this one, with scoreboard on, it was all out, full throttle right from the start.
Team USA’s Brice Parks lead off the scoring when he worked his way to the slot and whistled a wrist shot over Team Mexico’s netminder, Joey Lindquist’s right shoulder. A minute later, Team Mexico came roaring back and answered with a breakaway goal. Ben Russell found a wide-open Blake Brazil on the breakout pass. Brazil got past USA’s defense and took it all the way to the net, beating Team USA’s goalie, Keven Rodgers and tying the score 1-1.
More excitement in the first period came at 6:28. Team USA’s Michael McCurtain found himself on a breakaway – striding at full speed down the center of the ice. Mexico’s Pete McEnaney wasn’t going to let the 2005 Chugiak High standout get a clear shot off and tripped up McCurtain from behind. Referee Travis Jackson signaled a penalty shot on the play. McCurtain took the puck at center ice and went one on one with Lindquist. With a flash of the pad, Lindquist turned aside the shot, no goal. The hockey faithful erupted with cheers and the players banging their sticks on the boards in celebration. Team USA finished the first period with goals from Jesse Johnson and Pat Zmuda making the score 3-1, Team USA.
During the second period intermission, there was a special guest appearance by Tia Gore. Gore, a Junior at Eagle River High School, who performed a solo ice dance routine. She is an experienced performer and figure skating instructor at the MAC who delighted fans with her performance.
Also visiting during the second intermission was ERHL mascot, Captain Earl, complete with superhero outfit, black mask, and cape. Though not as graceful as Ms. Gore, he entertained the crowd throwing T-shirts to the hand-waving fans and volunteers selling split the pot tickets.
Zmuda, rested from the break, scored the only second-period goal with help from Max Daughtery, making the score 4-1. To add to the intensity of the game, Team Mexico’s goalie, Lindquist turned away another Team USA break away and a minute later a point-blank shot keeping his team in the game. The fans and players seem to feed off the excitement.
The third period ramped up the pressure on Team Mexico which led to four goals by Team USA. Brett Siegal scored first. Then with USA’s Jesse Johnson in the penalty box for roughing, Brice Parks netted a shorthanded goal for Team USA off his backhand, making the score, 6-1. Zumuda wasn’t finished yet; he netted a hattrick with his third goal at 4:46 left to play. Team Mexico had some good looks at the net and finally beat Rodgers when Brazil scored his second goal at 4:11. As time was winding down, McCurtain scored the final goal of the game at :56 making the score 8-2, Team USA.
Lindquist finished the game with 27 saves and Rodgers with 17. The referees whistled five penalties, 3 to Team USA and two to Team Mexico.
Following the game, the players gathered at center ice for a group photo and congratulatory handshakes.
As far as the game, Glines related, “The game was high scoring. Typically, an All-Star game is a little more wide open, more passing and what not…..” his voice trailing off. Then adding with a big smile, “The boys played this one like it was the last game they will ever play! We had a penalty shot, three or four penalties, some bumps, and bruises. But ya know what, they had a blast, and so did I!”
Although the final tally is not complete, ERHL Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Steve Glines estimated the total amount donated by Delta Western combined with ticket sales from the evening would bring fundraising efforts close to $3,000.00.
“Everything went better than expected,” Glines stated after the event. “I’m extremely happy, great turnout from the community and Special Olympics, we’re just thrilled to be apart of it all.”
Daniel Shepard is a freelance photojournalist and regular contributor for the ECHO News. He lives and owns a photography business in Eagle River. To learn more about Dan Shepard Photography, visit dan-shepardphotography.com. To reach Dan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.