I see the hope in your heart.
That was the theme of the 2017 Colorado Avalanche Charity Brunch & Fashion Show, hosted by the Avs Better Halves, on Sunday, and like every year, the event was a resounding success.
There wasn't a dry eye in the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center by the time the fashion show portion concluded, and with good reason. Every single child and family member had spent the better part of the morning shining like the brightest stars in the sky.
That feeling, with all of the laughter and the giggles and the games and the attention and the warmth and kindness of those involved, is something that the participating families don't get to experience on a day-to-day basis.
You see, these kids and their families are all dealing with medical challenges, ranging from diabetes to down syndrome to cancer, and they've all had to face an incredible amount of adversity in their short lives. So to spend a day making new friends and playing and getting pampered and walking the runway like the superstars they are is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It is great. I think the Avs organization has always done a great job of giving back to the community in different ways, and this is just another one," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said after the event. "To raise some money and for us to spend time with these great kids and their families and for them to get away from everyday life [is great]. They go through some tough things on a daily basis, and for them to come here and just be kids and hang out and be the superstars on the runaway for a day, I think that's been the best part."
The morning started off with the players being paired with children and families, which involved a special introduction and time to mingle and relax and learn about one another. Then, the kids went off to get decked out for the fashion show while the Avs headed out to serve brunch to the patrons of the charitable function.
When the food was done, the players reunited with their partners before walking the runway together in what is often the highlight of the season for those participating.
"This is usually one of our favorite days of the year," said Landeskog. "It gives us an opportunity to get away from hockey and get away from our every day life and make these kids and their families smile and laugh for a day. We feel like kids. We were playing Jenga out in the hallway, and we were playing mega-surgery (Operation) or something like that and all these kinds of games, just for us to really be kids again with our girls and boys.
"My girl today was Lily. She's 6 years old and just the happiest little girl. Brought a smile to my face, so if I could do that to her, I've done my job. We did our runway show, and Lily had a whole bunch of instructions for me on what to do out there. So I think we did good. I think she was happy with the way it turned out, and she was the star of the runway."
Landeskog has been a regular at this event since he joined the team in 2011 and the shine hasn't been lost on him. For a newcomer like rookie Mikko Rantanen, there's so much to experience on the day of community closeness.
"First, we came and played little games with the kids. Then we ate a little brunch, well we were serving and the other guys were eating, and then we had a little fashion show. It was great," the young Finn said. "It was my first time. It's a great experience. It makes me smile to see the kids have fun, and they enjoy it. They can probably remember this day for the rest of their lives, so it's a big day for us, too."
Rantanen was joined by Grace, a teenager with a stellar singing voice that is three-years into remission after a battle with Leukemia.
"I was paired with a 17-year-old girl from Denver. It was great. It's nice to see other kids too, a little bit younger, a little bit older. Everybody is having fun, so it's great," said Rantanen. "I think that's a big thing, especially for the families, but it's a big thing for us, too… We want to help the kids to have a great day. They're going to remember this for the rest of their lives, so that's a big thing for us, too."
Video: The 2017 Avalanche Charity Brunch fashion show
Everyone in the Avalanche organization set out to give the participating families something to look forward to, and by the time the event had concluded, everyone there was left with something beautiful to remember.
Whether it was young Ava telling Camden Kelley, the Avalanche's director of game presentation, "You don't tell me what to do" while snapping her fingers as she was given instructions or little Cameron busting a move to Bruno Mars' hit Uptown Funk while Rene Bourque looked on or sweet Clarissa stealing the show and refusing to leave the stage with Francois Beauchemin, there was enough going on to leave a lasting impression.
For Landeskog, picking a favorite moment was tough.
"There's a lot," he said. "But I think my favorite part is just coming in here and meeting our kids and hanging out with them and their families and seeing the kids' faces backstage up there and seeing how excited and pumped they are and how happy they are once it's all done, as well. So there's a lot of good parts, but the runway is probably the best.
"It's been a lot of fun and a day that we'll remember for a long time."