Champions Gala Delivers Magic

Stars above and below came together for a cause

Meghan Duggan began playing hockey at the age of 3. In the ensuing three decades she won eight gold medals (the 2018 Winter Olympics and seven World Championships), played collegiately and professionally and made a lifetime of memories.

“Sports changed my life from the moment I started,” she said. “It brought me to wonderful places, I met incredible people and it continues to shape my life in so many ways.”

So, Duggan knows as well as anyone the important role that sports can have in a young person’s life.

“Think of the impact that sports can have not only at getting people active,” she said, “but confidence, leadership and teamwork. Such an important thing.”

Duggan was speaking just a few feet from the ice surface at Wollman Rink in New York City’s Central Park where the Champions Gala was being held. Darkness enveloped the atmosphere and the yellow glow of Manhattan skyscrapers rose above the landscape.

“To have an event at Wollman rink is like being at home,” said Allison Blitzer, chairman of the Devils Youth Foundation. “I grew up here. When you look behind you and you see all the possibility of what New York and New Jersey brings, it makes me super excited. When I come here, I feel the magic of where we live and all that can happen.”

That magic produced a coming together of the stars above and stars below for a cause. Devils legends Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko and several current Devils such as captain Nico Hischier, Dougie Hamilton, Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban were joined by Olympians like Duggan, Erin Jackson and Elana Meyers Taylor and Paralympian, and New Jersey native, Jack Wallace.

They all descended upon the Wollman Rink to raise money for the DYF’s annual Gala Monday evening to help raise money for the foundation and various other youth programs.

“We bring life-changing opportunities to the youth of New York and New Jersey through the power of sports and entertainment,” said Kate Whitman Annis, executive director of the DYF. “We have Olympians, Paralympians, Devils alumni, Devils current players and they’re all so inspiring. And they’re bringing that positive message to kids that they can be what they see.”

That positive message can go a long way in a young person’s life.

“It’s something that changed my life from a young age,” head coach Lindy Ruff said. “You develop great friendships and learn the value of teamwork and working with each other. It keeps you out of trouble. But lifelong lessons, sports can do that all for you.”

“Leadership starts with us,” Subban said. “Making sure that we empower the youth and let them know it matters what you do. Giving them an opportunity to be successful in whatever they want to do.”

Those who attended the Gala were treated not only with a chance to meet-and-greet the celebrity athletes in attendance, but also skated on the outdoor rink, learned lessons on how to play from the Ice Hockey in Harlem, learned how to play sled hockey from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and even tested their luck at virtual reality skiing or bid on a silent auction.

“It’s an incredible night. We’ve had so many people show up in support, so many partners that have been here,” said Jake Reynolds, Devils president. “It’s just an incredible night to come in and support the Devils Youth Foundation, whose mission is to empower, inspire and change the lives of the youths in our community. To be able to come together for an invite like this and drive change in the community is a special night.”

An outlet is especially important for children now more than ever. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine left many parks, fields and ice rinks empty. Organized sports was put the side. Nearly two year’s worth of and that important interaction and character building from sports has been lost for many.

“Unfortunately, too many children in our own communities face significant challenges and obstacles in their everyday lives that make it impossible for them to fulfill their dreams,” Blitzer said. “The pandemic both highlighted and exacerbated the enormous hardships and inequities endured by so many children.

“So now more than ever, it is critical for us to step up and offer our support. The Devils Youth Foundation is committed to providing resources to thousands of local children so that they too can reach their potential both off and on the field … or ice!”

Daneyko, who joined the Devils in 1983, has seen firsthand how the sport has grown and effected children in the New Jersey area.

“Not a lot of people knew about hockey (in ’83),” Daneyko said. “But to see the growth and the impact it has on kids that gives them an opportunity to try something different. I’ve seen a lot of kids go on the ice through the Devils Youth program, that had never skated, take to it and excel at it and love it. It gives them some passion. It’s something they look forward to. It gives you an outlet.”

That also shows the power of sports.

“We have such a benefit to have the platform of sports that has the attention and opportunity to change lives,” Reynolds said. “To take that and leverage the platform that we have to drive meaningful change both in the community and with the youth is an obligation that we take on. We love to be able to do.”

Or, as Daneyko said: “You can help one kid, change one life, whatever it may be, just put a smile on someone’s face, that’s what it’s all about.”