The Colorado Avalanche held its annual Charity Brunch on Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. The event, hosted by the Avs Better Halves and part of Kroenke Sports Charities philanthropic efforts, has raised more than $1 million dollars for local children’s charities since 1997.
“It’s a cool day,” said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. “Every year at the start of the season, you see this day on the schedule and you kind of circle it in your mind. It’s an exciting day to meet these young, beautiful kids and a lot of parents and siblings and all kinds of people that are going through a lot. For us, it’s a unique experience to be able to just talk to them and forget about hockey for a little bit and just be here and have fun.”
“This is probably my favorite event we do all year,” added defenseman Tyson Barrie. “It’s nice to come out and see all the kids and see all the great people out here and interact with them. I think it’s an amazing event, and it’s a lot of fun for us.”
This special event started with a silent auction featuring baskets of each player’s “favorite things,” put together by the Avs Better Halves. Player and coach brunch aprons and mystery pucks were also on sale from members of the Better Halves.
When asked what was included in his basket for the auction, Landeskog said: “There was a used hockey stick in there and a jersey. There were some of my favorite chocolates, some CD’s, some movies and other stuff like that. There are definitely a lot of good things in there.”
Avalanche players and coaches served brunch at noon, which was then followed by the mystery puck opening. Guests who had purchased mystery pucks unwrapped their puck to reveal which player had signed it for them. The one lucky guest who had their puck signed in gold received a catered suite for 16 guests for the March 14 Avalanche game against the Calgary Flames. The winner also received a 2014-15 team-signed hockey stick.
Perhaps the best part of the whole event was the fashion show with Avs players, coaches and children who have overcome medical challenges throughout their young lives. Kids from Children’s Diabetes Foundation, Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation, Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation and Special Olympics Colorado were each paired up with players or coaches as they arrived at the event.
The players and coaches mingled with the children before and after the brunch and fashion show, signing autographs and taking pictures with the kids and their families.
Landeskog was paired up with Julia, a 17-year-old from Lakewood, Colo., who has Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The rare disorder affects her nervous and immune systems, causing neuropathy and severe paralysis. Julia continues to do well with physical therapy, as she attends high school and plans to pursue a career in pediatric nursing.
“It’s a really fun experience to meet all of the players and get to know them on a different level than most people," she said during the morning meet and greet. "I’m really excited for the rest of the day.”
All of the young participants were given new outfits from Dillard’s to wear down the runway. There was also a small staff on hand to do hair and makeup for all of the young girls taking part in the fashion show.
Avs forward Matt Duchene was paired up with a familiar face named Haven, a 4-year-old girl from Highlands Ranch, Colo., who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroblastoma three years ago. Haven first met Duchene back in October when she participated in the Avalanche “Hockey Fights Cancer” skating clinic at Pepsi Center.
“It was great to see her again,” said Duchene. “We got to spend some time together and get her some autographs from the team. She was pretty excited to be up [on the runway] today, and she was so cute. It was pretty special to be with her today.”
After another successful fashion show featuring music, dancing and a lot of memorable moments, the Avs were able to reflect on this amazing event and enjoyed thinking about something other than hockey, even if just for the day.
“It means a lot,” said forward Alex Tanguay. You come here, and we’re excited to meet the kids. It’s fun because they go through so much adversity at such a young age, and it certainly puts a lot of stuff into perspective.
“We go through the day-to-day stuff where we battle in our sport. But when you get here, it’s such a great event that you don’t think about what happened last night or what happened the night before or what’s coming up the next day. The kids are the stars of the show. It’s fun for us to be here, and it’s a privilege for us to see what they’ve been through and how much they’re battling and how happy they are about life.”
For Duchene, this was the sixth Charity Brunch he has attended, but he continues to look forward to the event each and every year. He said it allows him to put things into perspective and step away from the daily grind of life as an NHL player.
“I think no matter what is going on in your life, it always brings a smile to your face,” he said. "It’s nice to put things into perspective a little bit and realize how lucky we are to be doing what we’re doing.
“I’ve met so many amazing families and kids over the years. Just being able to give back and make a family’s day and a kid’s day. They make our days too, so it’s pretty special.”