CASTLE PINES, Colo. -- When Deb Dowling-Canino first met Pierre Lacroix, the two talked at length about “neighbors” and how they saw the Avalanche working that word into their top-to-bottom approach.
That get-together was in 1995—18 years ago—right after Lacroix, as Avs general manager, had overseen the franchise’s move from Quebec. He and Dowling-Canino, as special events director for the Denver Nuggets and Avalanche, decided the franchise needed a community-relations efforts that matched its efforts on the ice as it entered into a new era.
They wanted the Avalanche to embody excellence in everything it did and to make a difference with its community-relations efforts.
The fruits of that talk and subsequent hard work were on full display Monday during the 17th Colorado Avalanche Charity Golf Classic at The Ridge at Castle Pines North golf course, just one of the multiple events Kroenke Sports Charities holds every year to aid in its pursuit to give back to community programs throughout the Denver area.
Dowling-Canino is now vice president of community relations and fan development for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, and in that role she oversees an annual campaign that donates more than $300,000 to five signature community partners that provide sports opportunities to children and adults of all abilities.
Monday’s Classic, which gave fans and sponsors a unique opportunity to spend a day golfing with an Avalanche personality, raised $88,000 in that pursuit, bringing the total money raised in the event’s history to $1.1 million.
“We wanted to be a good neighbor to the people of Colorado, and we wanted them to know that our guys are here to help them when they have a need,” Dowling Canino said, thinking back on her initial talk with Lacroix, now an Avalanche advisor after building the foundation of one of the finest decades of any team in NHL and major league sports history.
“[We asked,] ‘What is a good neighbor? A good neighbor provides food when necessary, clothing when necessary, shelter, etc., and that’s what we want to do.’ So, that precedent was set when the team moved here, and at that point [Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations] Joe [Sakic] was the captain of the team, so the continuity there is really special. The ‘A’ brand is very special. The new guys (players) who are brought onto the team, they learn that there is a commitment to Colorado here, and it’s such a pleasure to work with all of them.”
Participants paid $1,000 per person to play golf Monday on one of the Denver area’s best golf courses, and they got to spend their round as a “teammate” with an Avalanche player, coach or area celebrity, building a relationship with someone that beforehand they maybe had only seen on the ice or in the news.
“Without this event we wouldn’t be able to do what we really want to do in the community,” Dowling-Canino said. “It’s so sad with the [statewide] flooding and how that’s affected so many people, but, for example, because we had the money in the bank we were able to immediately respond and make a $50,000 donation to The Salvation Army to help with relief and recovery.
“That’s possible because of events like today’s.”
The tournament has been well attended for much of its history, including reaching full capacity on most occasions, but Dowling-Canino said she could feel a different type of engagement Monday during the pre-tournament brunch and throughout the day.
The Avalanche’s offseason has been full of moves meant to reclaim on-ice excellence, but the side effects of those moves has been a renewed interest in the franchise from its fans.
Colorado’s Opening Night is Wednesday (7:30 p.m. MT) vs. Anaheim, and the excitement of the offseason, exhibited Monday, has given new energy to the work set in motion all those years ago by Lacroix and Dowling-Canino.
“People you talk to now, they are just so excited for the hockey season to be starting up this year,” Dowling-Canino said. “To know Opening Night is right around the corner and to have the history of the team so involved this year in leadership roles, with Joe and [head coach] Patrick [Roy] and [defensive development consultant] Adam [Foote]. Colorado hockey fans are very loyal, and they are so excited with the management crew and a great group of young guys.
“It’s fun to have that energy. The energy will be back in the building on Wednesday night, and that will be so amazing.”