NHL fund-raiser brings a taste of the ice to Greenwich

Normally a warm Sunday afternoon in August is not when a person’s thoughts drift to the National Hockey League, but this past weekend included a rather special event in town.

Greenwich native, Boston College star player and now winger for the Columbus Blue Jackets Cam Atkinson brought along some of the NHL’s brightest young stars for a special autograph signing and fund raiser on Mason Street for the Marty Lyons Foundation this past Sunday. With several NHL stars on hand, signed jerseys, sticks and other hockey memorabilia and lots of hockey fans attending, it seemed that a street hockey game in the central business district could break out at any moment, but instead they were there for something more significant.

Mr. Atkinson, who finished his rookie season with Columbus showing flashes of the talent that made him a star at Boston College, including a three goal game, set up the fund-raiser to benefit the Marty Lyons Foundation, which helps make critically and chronically ill kids wishes come through. From the autographs to the silent auction of NHL merchandise to the food sold, every dime went to the foundation.

 

Mr. Atkinson was part of a group signing autographs including Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers and Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders. His fellow Greenwich residents Sean Backman, who is in the Islanders organization, and Kevin Shattenkirk, of the St. Louis Blues, were also on hand.

“I’m really happy that we’re able to help the foundation,” Mr. Atkinson told the Post. “I think it’s huge that we’re able to do this. Whenever someone has success in their life it’s important to give back. I have a great opportunity here and we’ve got a great venue and it’s really worked out for the best.”

And like anything he does, Mr. Atkinson had the solid support of his family behind him. They helped coordinate everything and the event was outside a family owned business Magaschoni, which donated 10% of its sales that day to the Marty Lyons Foundation. It was also a chance for the family to show its pride in Cam, who has achieved a dream of playing pro hockey few can actually reach.

“This is incredible,” Ellen Atkinson, Cam’s mother, told the Post. “I’m thrilled to see this kind of response. I was actually a bit nervous but we didn’t even start this until one and people were lining up at noon for it. It’s very, very exciting and Cam is doing such a wonderful thing. We have people from all over here today, even Cam’s fans from Springfield, Mass., and it’s incredible to see.”

The long NHL regular season and then the playoffs can be a grind like no other on an athlete’s body and these summer months are treasured as a chance to recharge. But Mr. Atkinson said he had no trouble getting his fellow players to come from near and far to help out in Greenwich.

“I can’t thank them enough,” Mr. Atkinson said. “I would drop anything for them and they would do the same for me.”

Mr. Kreider became a bit of an overnight sensation as he went straight from Boston College to scoring critical goals and giving the Rangers much needed playoff offense before the team fell short in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“It was a lot of fun and the year went by so fast,” Mr. Kreider said. “We had a great run but there’s a lot more work to be done and it makes me excited to get back on the ice.”

That run in the playoffs made Mr. Kreider a celebrity quickly but he said it’s important to keep things in perspective and help out with events like this whenever he can.

“It’s a different kind of experience and you have to take it with a grain of salt since it was only 18 games at the end of the season, but it just makes me more eager to get on the ice and get better,” Mr. Kreider said. “It’s events like this at the end of the day that are so important. It’s what it’s all about. It’s an honor to be able to give back to such a great group.”

Johanna Driscoll, a volunteer wish coordinator for the foundation, was on hand for the event and said that because its almost an entirely volunteer driven organization with only two paid employees, fund-raisers like this are critical to its ongoing work.

“We totally depend on events like this,” Ms. Driscoll said. “We are a non-profit and we need fund-raisers like this and our big golf outing in September in Norwalk and others. Everything we raise goes to granting wishes for the kids and we work with kids from age three to 17. It’s beyond words to see people step up like this. When you’re a volunteer organization you really need the support of members of the community elsewhere and what Cam and his family have brought to this has been fantastic.”

The foundation was started 30 years ago by Mr. Lyons, a famed player on the New York Jets famous “sack exchange” defensive line during the 1980’s. The foundation, which works with Make a Wish, has 13 chapters in the United States and grants sick kids chances to do things like a trip to Disneyworld or a cruise or even, as was recently done, a trip to Las Vegas to meet Criss Angel. The foundation even helps out with smaller things like getting a needed ramp for a wheelchair or making sure they get to doctors appointments.

Two of the kids being helped by the foundation, both of which are big hockey fans, were even able to attend Mr. Atkinson’s event. Ms. Atkinson said she was glad the family had a chance to support such a worthy organization.

“It’s all about the children,” Ms. Atkinson said. “Once Cam found out he could help a group that gives terminally ill children a wonderful wish that’s what spurred all this to happen. I can’t get over this turnout and all of the players, many of whom played with Cam or against him, were so eager to bring something for the auction and give their time to be here to help. All of these players and the NHL itself have been so helpful and generous and it’s so good to see Cam take the lead on this. He’s so kind hearted and such a good kid and it really shows here.”

People came from all over the area and beyond for the event. Elliott Cohen brought his six-year-old son Joey from Long Island where they are Islanders season ticket holders and eager to see Mr. Moulson and Mr. Backman and help a good cause.

“I remember seeing Marty Lyons practice for years out at Hofstra when he was with the Jets and anything we can do to help we want to be able to do it,” Mr. Cohen said.

Steve Mendelssohn came from Milford for the event as a NHL fanatic and said events like this are a great opportunity for fans to show their appreciation for people giving back.

“When you hear about the athletes you idolize coming out to support a great cause you want to support them too,” Mr. Mendelssohn said. “They put in so much hard work on the ice and then hard work off the ice and they deserve us coming out to thank them and help them.”

 

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