NHL stars play charity game in Cottage Grove tonight
Maybe lightning does strike the same place twice.
Last year south Washington County hockey fans had the rare treat of seeing some of the NHL's stars play a game at a local rink. Turns out they'll get another chance this summer.
Hastings natives Derek Stepan, Taylor Chorney and Jeff Taffe are holding their second-annual charity game on Wednesday, July 11, at the Cottage Grove Ice Arena.
Last year, nearly 1,500 people filled Cottage Grove Ice Arena for the event.
"We were very happy when they called and asked us to hold it here again," said new CGIA Arena Manager Jordan Hirman. "We were more than happy to help them out and bring it back here. It's great for the community and great exposure for Cottage Grove as well. We'd like to surpass last year and get even more people in here this time around."
Proceeds from the game benefit the Cottage Grove Hockey Association, the Hastings Hockey Association and the Hastings-based Defending The Blue Line -- a nonprofit organization created by soldiers ensuring that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in the game of hockey.
The idea for the game came from Stepan, Chorney and Taffe - who are good friends - in order to give back to the sport they love.
Stepan has had a short, but stellar career with the New York Rangers. After starring for Shattuck-St. Mary's, the University of Wisconsin Badgers and captaining the United States gold-medal winning team at the 2010 IIHF World U20 Championships, he tallied 45 points for the Rangers as a rookie and made history by becoming the first player in Rangers history and the fourth in NHL history to score a hat trick in his NHL debut. This past winter, in his second season with New York, Stepan had a career-high 51 points. Chorney, a standout defenseman at the University of North Dakota, was the 36th overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2005. He currently plays with the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League (AHL). Taffe, a former Minnesota Mr. Hockey award winner (1998-99) and University of Minnesota standout, has played professionally since 2002. He was drafted in the first round, 30th overall, by the St. Louis Blues in 200 and is currently with the Minnesota Wild.
"These three young men are so giving," said Brad Stepan, Derek's dad, who helped organize the event the past two years. "They want to give back to the local area and this is a good way to do it. Those guys are so willing to give back. Hockey players are just that way - they always seem to want to give back to their communities. Without Jeff, Taylor and Derek this wouldn't happen."
Players are subject to change, however, others expected to play include, but are not limited to: Keith Ballard of the Vancouver Canucks, Drew Conboy of the Montreal Canadians, Tim Conboy of the Ottawa Senators, Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL legend Phil Housley, Mike Lundin of the Minnesota Wild, Paul Martin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers, Dan Sexton of the Anaheim Ducks, Drew Stafford of the Buffalo Sabres and Mark Parrish of the Ottawa Senators.
"I'm a sports nut," Hirman said. "I like all sports. I think a lot of people are excited to see all these guys under one roof."
It's also possible that free-agent NHL star Zach Parise, who played in last year's game, could also appear.
"We're hoping like a guy like Zach Parise can play in this thing and he's the newest member of the Minnesota Wild. But, we'll find out," Brad Stepan said.
This year's game will also include an after party at the American Motorsports Bar in Cottage Grove, a food truck outside the arena and a very special appearance by Jack Jablonski, the Benilde-St. Margaret's student who suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed in a game just over six months ago. Jablonski will drop the puck for the charity game.
"For anyone that hasn't met Jack, they have to," Brad Stepan said. "To see the smile on the young man's face after everything he's been through is pretty amazing. He's quite an amazing young man."
An autograph session with the players will kick off the event at 5:30 p.m. The game will start as soon as the autograph session ends, at roughly 7 p.m. Presale tickets can be purchased for $30 ($35 at the door if available) at the Hastings YMCA, the Cottage Grove Ice Arena or by contacting Brad Stepan at (651) 983-9802 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Stepan said he's hoping to build on the success from last year, but that so far they've sold fewer tickets than last year.
However, he said he knows it will be a success either way.
"It's not about the money we raise - that's great - but, it's about the smiles on these kids' faces," he said. "If everybody could see these kids when the NHL players sign their stick or their jersey, it's just unbelievable."
Second-annual NHL Charity Hockey Game
Cottage Grove Ice Arena
Wednesday, July 11
Autograph session - 5:30 p.m.
Game - 7 p.m.
Tickets - $30 in advance ($35 at the door if available)