TORONTO — They don’t quite move the way they used to and they’re certainly not as svelte as they once were, but when you get a couple of dozen NHL old-timers together, you can still see magic.
Over there, wearing Boston Bruins’ colours is Adam Oates, making tape to tape passes as though he was still setting up Brett Hull; there’s Mike Modano, looking as if he could blow past a defenceman any time he felt like it; there’s Troy Crowder, towering over all the other players; and there are guys like Mike Gartner, Gary Leeman, Mark Napier, Guy Carbonneau, Denis Savard and Tom Fergus, wearing Leafs blue and white or the Habs’ bleu, rouge et blanc, rekindling memories of a better era – or at least one with more parity between the teams.
It was all fun to watch, even though the “championship game” last Friday looked as if it was being played in slow motion and the only contact on the ice came when an NHLer gave an amateur a friendly hug. But for two teams of top Baycrest fundraisers, who between them contributed $300,000 toward the Baycrest Foundation, it was pretty close to a dream come true.
The championship game was one of the highlights of this year’s 10th annual Scotiabank Baycrest Pro-Am, a spring rite that raises money for the Baycrest Foundation. The funds go to support research into Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia care, research, education and innovation.
This year’s program is expected to raise $2 million, on top of the $25 million raised in the first nine years of the event.
Altogether 500 players and NHL alumni participated in pro-am, with two days of games held at the Scotiabank Pond, formerly Buckingham Arena, in the Downsview lands. Teams of up to 17 players each paid $25,000 to play, but it was only the top fundraisers who could join the full array of NHL stars in the championship and all-star games.
Each team, however, drafted NHL players to join their squad. Modano was the first NHLer selected this year at a pre-tournament event at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Dan McPherson has played in eight championship games and it never gets old, he said. It’s a unique opportunity to play with NHL stars and hear their stories about their playing days. It’s also fun getting together with the guys on his team – the Gerihat-tricks – whom he may not see until next year. “A lot of the guys are great guys,” he said.
Howard Detsky is a seasoned recreational player who enjoys lacing up his skates to play with the pros. To earn the privilege, he solicited 61 sponsors who donated on average $50 to $100 each, he said.
“You never know how many people are affected [by dementia] until you talk about it,” he said.
Marty Howe was one of the pro hockey alumni on hand at the Scotiabank Pond, but a bad back prevented him from getting on the ice.
In 2009, Baycrest launched the Gordie and Colleen Howe Fund for Dementia Research, supporting patient outreach programs and clinical drug trials.
“It was a perfect thing for us,” said Marty, Gordie’s son, who played with his father and brother Mark, in the old World Hockey Association (WHA). His mother, Colleen, died of a rare form of dementia called Pick’s disease, and Gordie now also suffers from dementia.
Gordie was very touched by Baycrest’s gesture, he said.
For Marty, the pro-am brings together elements important to the Howe family. “I know my mom and dad always did charity work,” he said. And hockey players are great guys. “The people are down to earth, grounded. They do a lot.”
For Oates, who participated in the event for the first time last week, accepting an invitation to play from Mark Napier was a natural thing to do. “Most families have somebody touched by it, my family included. It is a great opportunity to give something back,” he said.