Steve Webb earned every one of his 321 games in an NHL uniform, mostly with the New York Islanders, by sticking up for his teammates. He's still doing it – just for a different kind of team.
In 2007, three years after retiring from the NHL, Webb changed focus when he founded the W20 Foundation. It's a non-profit organization designed to assist youth hockey players in the Long Island community receive a scholarship toward a specialized high school program and/or undergraduate course of study at an accredited institution.
To help raise money, he's traded his stick and skates for a bicycle.
Saturday marked the beginning of the second annual "Spinning a Web of Leaders Bike Ride," a 650-mile, nine-day bike journey from the kickoff spot at the Kitchen Kabaret in Roslyn Heights, N.Y., through New York State and eventually all the way to Peterborough, Ont., where Webb spent his junior hockey days with the Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. The proceeds will go to educational grants and scholarships.
Webb anticipates a great experience.
"It's going to be a very special day," he said before kicking off the trip on Saturday. "We have great weather and get to ride in to New York through Central Park, which is a great ride. After that, we'll go across the George Washington Bridge and those views of the city are definitely pretty wild."
Sounds like a lot of fun. But, of course, there's a bigger purpose behind the lengthy journey.
"I really just want to help those local kids that play youth hockey and are going on to an accredited university and need some assistance, financially," he said, adding that he hoped to improve on last year's total of nearly $10,000.
This year's ride will also have a more global reach and appeal, as W20 will partner with the Baycrest Foundation, which is among the leaders in Alzheimer's disease research.
"We were more localized when we started," Webb said. "Since we are biking to Canada, we wanted to broaden our scope, so we started focusing on Alzheimer's and dementia."
"Studies are coming out now showing the relationship between early onset Alzheimer's and athletics. Through playing physical or contact sports, you're increasing your chances of developing Alzheimer's. So if we can help donate money and support the research centers and hospitals that are looking to find a cure, then we will actually be doing something for a worthy cause and hopefully will help a lot of people."
For Webb, the cause is as admirable as it is personal -- Alzheimer's has impacted his family. The result is just added motivation to do what he can to help.
"There's just more of a focus now on raising money for research centers and ultimately trying to find a cure," he said.
For now, though, the focus will be on getting through the grueling trip. Though Webb is still in great physical shape, the ride is no picnic for anyone, novice or advanced. Still, Webb will rely on his old school ways and his old self to get the job done.
"There was more bike training back when I played," he said. "Plus, even though I'm away from the game, this is my way to use this time and give myself something to strive for. It'll be a challenge, but I can do this. I'll do it."
Not alone, either. Joining Webb on the bike ride will be his cousin Ryan Leary and TSN sportscaster Dan O'Toole, who took part in the trip last year.
"I didn't actually ride a bike," O'Toole said. "I was Steve's support vehicle. I felt bad for him on long lonely stretches of road by himself, so I figured instead of just yelling at birds passing by and cows in fields, he could at least have someone to talk to if I rode with him."
"Plus, the cause is something I really wanted to get on the bike for, and that's to fight Alzheimer's in Canada. Steve has someone close to him who is affected by it, as do I."
With today's economic troubles, families of young hockey players are affected in their efforts to get their sons and daughters to the next level, athletically and academically. But with the help of W20, the Long Island youth hockey community has been flourishing.
"Youth hockey is doing well on Long Island," Webb said proudly. "There's a huge growth here. You're seeing a lot more players from around the area making it to the NHL and to colleges and to juniors. It's a great thing."
For more about the trip, visit www.w20foundation.org.