Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A Purple Twist

As you may be aware from reading this blog, I am a huge supporter of teams helping charities within their communities. I feature NHL player charities and I try to highlight impressive work by hockey teams that go out of their way to make the lives of their fans better. This month has seen a vast number of teams wearing pink in some form or another, but the Grand Rapids Griffins put a spin on the pink by donning purple for their game against the Peoria Rivermen on February 18. The special purple jerseys were to raise awareness and funds for Van Andel Institute's cancer research, and I'm all for the Griffins helping to raise funds for a local cancer research center. The question was how many people would come out on a Saturday night to help the Griffins make some money for the Van Andel Institute? And would those fans go home happy with a Griffins win?

The Griffins were looking for a win in those purple jerseys as they need to keep pace with the other teams in their division. Grand Rapids sits fifth in the North Division, but are only six points back of second-place Rochester. Peoria, meanwhile, is sitting third in the Midwest Division, and are chasing the Chicago Wolves who lead them by five points. This game was a big game for both AHL clubs with the season winding down.

Peoria opened the scoring midway through the second period as Brett Sterling and Derek Nesbitt took advantage of a defensive breakdown when Sterling popped his 21st goal of the season past Tom McCollum. Sterling found himself all alone on the doorstep when he made a quick pass to Derek Nesbitt who returned it to Sterling in front of a gaping net. A bad defensive sequence for Grand Rapids made it 1-0 for Peoria.

2:12 before the period had ended, Peoria increased its lead. Phil McRae, son of former St. Louis pugilist Basil McRae, fired a shot from the high slot that caught the screening Mike Peluso in front of the net, and the deflection found its way past McCollum. Peoria led 2-0 after 40 minutes.

6:51 into the third period, Gustav Nyquist put the Griffins on his shoulders as he went end-to-end through the Rivermen before firing a high wrist shot that beat Jake Allen to make it a 2-1 deficit for the Griffins. The two-goal lead was restored just 30 seconds, though, when Phil McRae notched his 17th goal of the season. Peoria would carry that 3-1 lead through to the final horn, and the Rivermen downed the Griffins on Purple Jersey Night.

Much like the Rampage's loss on their Pink in the Rink night, the end result in the game was far less important than the results that Grand Rapids put up for the Van Andel Institute. 9,235 purple-clad fans hit the turnstiles to get their free purple t-shirt, free purple rally towels, and lined up for purple cotton candy, sno-cones, and popcorn as the Griffins really got into the act. Five year-old Clayton Kendall, a two-time cancer survivor, dropped the puck at center ice for the ceremonial faceoff - a cool feature for the little hockey fan!

Clayton's battle truly is remarkable, and I can't give enough kudos to the Griffins for honouring this brave young man. Peter J. Wallner got to visit Clayton and his family, finding that little Clayton defeated cancer twice: once as "2-year-old after a tumor the size of a softball was found in his abdomen, and again starting in Nov. 2010 when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant from his 7-year-old sister, Julian." He's been cancer-free for a year, and that's a good sign for this little warrior.

"He's doing great," said Jim Kendall, Clayton's father. "He's not as strong or stocky... but he's quote, unquote getting back to normal.

"We're cautiously optimistic. We have strong faith and strong support from family and friends and Helen DeVos (hospital). Those three are what pulled us through."

While there has been no mention of how much money was raised, it appeared that everyone at the arena was firmly behind the money-making event. Congratulations to the Van Andel Institute, who received what was probably a sizable chunk of money, and a big kudos to the Grand Rapids Griffins for helping out this fantastic Michigan-based institution, its patients, and its causes.

In a bit of a strange happening for a regular-season AHL game, referee Jeff Smith didn't call a penalty all night, marking this game as the second in Griffins' history where a penalty wasn't called. The only other occurrence came on March 21, 2009 in Grand Rapids’ 3-2 home win over Toronto. The referee that night? Jeff Smith.

No penalties on a charity night? Perfect, if you ask me.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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