Some of the National Hockey League's finest players faced off against some of Sudbury's physicians Sunday, for the fourth annual NHL Vs. Docs event in support of the NEO Kids Foundation.
A crowd of nearly 3,000 people gathered to watch current and former professional players take the ice in this family friendly event, which included local players Nick Foligno, Marcus Foligno, Tyler Bertuzzi and Damien Giroux.
Nick was joined by his Columbus Blue Jacket teammates Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky, Pierre Luc Dubois and Scott Harrington. Joining them on the ice were John Tavares from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Marc Staal from the New York Rangers, Matt Duchene from the Nashville Predators and Anthony Duclair from the Ottawa Senators.
Representing Sudbury medicine were physicians Dr. Christopher Trebb, Dr. Steve Morris, Dr. Andre Michon, Dr. Sean Murray, Dr. Ryan DeMarchi, Dr. Ryan Hodgins, Dr. Jason Prpic, Dr. Rob Pineau, Dr. Paul Gibb, Dr. Ian Symington and Dr. Chris Bourdon.
Off the ice, the NHL team had its own celebrity coaches. These included former Sudbury Wolves coach, NHL player and NHL assistant coach Mike Foligno, former NHL players Derek Mackenzie, Cory Stillman (current head coach of the Sudbury Wolves) and Andrew Brunette, and legendary Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen.
Outside the hockey world, members of the cast of Letterkenny, which is filmed in Greater Sudbury, were also on hand, including Andrew Herr, Jared Keeso, Nate Dales, Dylan Playfair, Evan Stern and Tyler Johnston.
The afternoon began with a barbecue, children's entertainment and the opportunity to get autographs from some of the stars, followed by two 15-minute plays against the doctors, and one 20-minute play between members of the NHL.
"NEO Kids is really a vision about child and family-centred care here in Northeastern Ontario, in other words, providing what we can to children as close to home as possible," said Dr. Sean Murray, chief of pediatrics and medical director for the NEO Kids and Family program.
"So we're not separating families, we're not separating siblings, we're allowing parents to still work and maintain their own health."
The NEO Kids Foundation supports NEO Kids in a variety of ways he said. As such, funds raised can be allocated towards the purchase of equipment, development of the NEO Kids facility and services, such as a shuttle to and from appointments for disadvantaged families.
Nick Foligno, honourary chair of the NEO Kids Foundation, former Wolves player and team captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has played a significant role in the event's growth these past few years along with his brother, Marcus. In addition to being a supporting voice within the community, the Folignos have done what they can to entice the biggest names in hockey to the North.
Getting players to take time from their busy schedules has not been as difficult as one might think said Nick, which continues to surprise him.
"I think hockey players, in general, are charitable, humble people," said Nick. "They realize the importance that it has on my family and the community here ... and they want to be a part of that."
This has been great for members of the community who may not otherwise have the chance to see these players in action said Nick, but in the end, participants and those in attendance have only one goal in mind.
"It's no joke, everyone in Sudbury loves hockey, it's something we like to do and cheer on," he said, "(But) first and foremost, we're trying to get this children's health facility built."
Nick's daughter was born with a congenital heart defect he said, so he knows first-hand what families with sick children have to go through. This is especially hard on families in the North he has found, who rely on a lot of blue-collar jobs that aren't able to accommodate extended time away.
"I think it's so important that we use our voice and obviously our donations in showing we support this," said Nick. "We need this here and our kids are going to thrive because of that."
Find more information on the NEO Kids Foundation here.