Penguins: Children are central to players' efforts
Blake Thomas and his son Michael, 2, pose for a photo with Penguins players, from left, Ruslan Fedotenko, Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, and Jay McKee on Dec. 8. The Penguins players made their 26th annual team visit to patients at Children's Hospital and delivered gifts, posed for photos, and signed autographs.
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The NHL's two-day pause for the holidays is over. The Penguins got back to practice last night and play Toronto tonight at Mellon Arena.
As they do every year at this time, the Penguins had a series of hospital visits and charity events. While there are other such functions outside of the holiday season, a handful of players and coach Dan Bylsma make that kind of giving a year-round venture. They have taken the extra step of forming a registered charitable foundation.
"There are people who want to help; there are people who need help," center Sidney Crosby said. "When you have a foundation, that's really the glue that can put that all together."
The Sidney Crosby Foundation is the newest of the team members' charities. Others include the Dan Bylsma Charitable Trust Fund (danbylsma.com); winger Matt Cooke's Cooke Family Foundation of Hope (foundationofhope.ca); the Child Life program within the Kingston (Ontario) General Hospital, chaired by defenseman Jay McKee (kgh.on.ca/programs/childlife.asp); and the Gervais-Talbot Foundation, run by Penguins forward Max Talbot and the New York Islanders' Bruno Gervais (omniumgervais-talbot.com/english/organismes/).
• Matchup: Penguins. vs. Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jonas Gustavsson for Maple Leafs.
• Penguins: Have won 6 of past 7 games. ... Fleury is 11-2-1 in past 14 starts. ... The 69 goals at home among most in NHL.
• Maple Leafs: Had lost 4 of previous 5 games before playing Montreal last night. ... Had killed 13 of past 15 penalties (86.7 percent) before last night. ... Their 73 goals allowed on road among most in NHL.
• Hidden stat: Penguins have scored first in just 17 of 38 games but are 15-2 in those games.
Perhaps the best known charitable organization linked to the team is the co-owner's local and highly successful Mario Lemieux Foundation, which dates to 1993.
Crosby lives with the Lemieux family during the season, so he had some guidance as he set up his foundation over the past year or so. He recently finished the accreditation process in his native Canada.
"Having him, I think I'll be able to fast-track a little bit, but I have some ideas now," said Crosby, who doesn't have a Web site yet. "As far as getting it set up, it's a long process. Now that it's been approved, we can start doing things to help."
At 22, Crosby is young for such a venture, which is one of the reasons he based the foundation back home, where his family and a few others in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, can help oversee things. After participating in team functions and, for the past few seasons, donating a charity suite at Mellon Arena for home games, he intends to branch out to the United States -- another pile of red tape -- once he gets more established.
T-shirts and posters sold during his day with the Stanley Cup last summer and a new book based on that day were Crosby's first fundraising effort. He hopes to develop a signature summer event, probably not a standard golf or hockey tournament. A fantasy camp is something he's considering.
"My idea is to try to be a little more creative, see what kind of ideas we can come up with," he said.
For now, Crosby wants to be able to choose various causes rather than funnel funds to one area. It's likely children will benefit.
"Kids are so innocent," Crosby said. "They're not really taught how to deal with [trying] situations. They haven't had the life experience. But they always deal with it probably the best out of anyone. Whether it's because they're young and they have the energy and a great attitude or maybe they just don't know any better, but it seems like you see such great attitudes when it comes to kids. Everyone has a soft spot for them."
Cooke and Bylsma, in contrast to Crosby, are older with more life experiences. For them, the desire to form a foundation was based at least in part on family tragedies.
Bylsma already was involved with his family in summer hockey camps, writing books about hockey instruction and advice, and speaking engagements. He was making hospital donations after he and his wife, Mary Beth, lost their first-born child, a daughter who was stillborn.
Opening a foundation in his native Michigan was a more effective way of doing that.
"I felt like I needed to start a charity fund to give back to some of the areas I was already involved with," Bylsma said.
"For us, naively, when you are young and trying to have your first kid, you think you'll have a child and there's no problems in life. You find out there can be, and you find out it happens more often than you thought. When you get an answer for your medical situation that is, 'We don't have an answer,' or, 'We need more research,' that's not an answer you really want to hear, so you want to do something."
In addition, Bylsma's foundation helps families whose children need financial assistance to be able to participate in sports, especially hockey.
"[There are rewards] when you do something and you have an effect on people and you get a response and you see what it can do for them, and you hope what you say and do has an effect on them like hockey did on our family," he said.
For Cooke, it was his brother-in-law whose wife gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Hope. Thus the name of Cooke's charity.
"We always did a lot of charity work and went to a lot of events, but we went through a tragic loss in our family and felt that we could have the power to give and get other people to give," Cooke said.
"You may not take your health for granted, but sometimes you forget how lucky you are to have health in your family. When you see reality, it definitely brings you back to earth."
When he played in Vancouver, Cooke's foundation held an event with his friend and popular Canadian musical artist Colin James. They raised $200,000 to benefit a women's shelter and Kids Up Front, which helps youngsters get library cards, tickets to events and the like.
Cooke is in the process of registering the foundation in the United States.
Talbot is on the verge of branching out with his own organization that will be based locally, although he still will partner with close friend Gervais. The two have held a golf event the past two summers in the Montreal area -- raising a combined $140,000 to fight breast cancer and autism and help a children's charity -- and next offseason hope to switch to a hockey tournament.
Cooke and Talbot also used their Stanley Cup parties to raise money. Talbot targeted the Children's Wish Foundation, the international equivalent of Make-A-Wish, and included five families in his celebration.
"They were part of the parade with me," Talbot said. "We had a chance to interact with them and really see what that foundation did for them and what they go through when their kids get sick. The whole family can go to Disney World and forget about the sickness for a little while. Seeing those five families was pretty special."
McKee's organization has the most specific recipients, children who are being treated at Kingston General Hospital, where his mother, Cathie McKee, worked.
"We raise money for kids who have to spend an extended amount of time in the hospital to get them anything they want to make their stay easier and more comfortable -- whether it's video games or books or coloring books, whatever they need," said Jay McKee, who has a summer golf tournament.
When he played in Buffalo, McKee was affiliated for several years with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation branch there and said they raised more than $500,000 in that time. Now those efforts go to his charity in Kingston
"I just wanted to do something based around kids," he said. "I know there's hundreds of charities that do great stuff in all different ranges, but being able to do something with children, for me, that's the way to go.
"The most rewarding part is just seeing the people's faces -- everyone that's involved, not even just the children, but all the volunteers that make it work."
First Published December 27, 2009 12:00 am