Hockey players are often encouraged to "leave it all on the ice," but if there's one thing Cam Atkinson always brings with him off the ice, it's his heart.
There's a reason why Blue Jackets fans were instantly captivated by the energetic 23-year-old from Riverside, Conn., and a large part of that is his infectious personality. Atkinson is the definition of a people-person, never shy in talking with fans and signing as many autographs as he can.
And it was those interactions with fans during his first NHL season that inspired him to give back.
Atkinson is partnering with the Marty Lyons Foundation this weekend for an event called "Keep Hope Alive," which is engineered to raise money for the foundation and bring joy to the lives of children battling illness. Lyons, a former NFL defensive tackle with the New York Jets in the 1970s and 1980s, started the foundation after forming a special relationship with a terminally ill child during his playing career.
Several current NHL players, including Jonathan Quick, Martin St. Louis, Matt Moulson, Chris Krieder, Kevin Shattenkirk, Max Pacioretty and Nick Bonino will be in attendance with Atkinson, signing autographs, shooting pucks with kids, and more. The event takes place this Sunday (Aug. 19) from 1-4 p.m. in Greenwich.
The foundation grants wishes to children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses, and with some helpful donations from the NHL (sticks, gloves, pucks, other memorabilia), Atkinson hopes to see a lot of money raised for a cause that means so much to him.
"I really wanted to give back," Atkinson told BlueJackets.com. "That's what motivated me. When I looked up the Marty Lyons Foundation, which is a local foundation, it seemed like a good fit right away. These children have wishes they want to have granted, and anytime you can help them out, it's the best thing anyone can do. This cause means a lot to me."
Local Greenwich cashmere retailer Magaschoni, a store owned by Cam's mother Ellen, will be hosting the event and is contributing to the foundation, as well. Throughout the event, 10 percent of all Magaschoni profits will be donated to the Marty Lyons Foundation. The hockey-related items will be up for silent auction, and 95 percent of the money raised from the silent auction goes to the foundation.
Food and drinks will be available throughout the day, as well, and all proceeds will be donated to the cause.
"I went to Marty with my idea, and he was 100 percent behind it," Atkinson said. "The clientele for the event is all local, and the NHL players are all totally on board with it. It's a win-win situation. The NHL has really helped me out with items for the silent auction, hats, gloves, whatever I needed, they helped.
"The Blue Jackets have donated a lot of stuff, as well...I'm so excited about all the support we've had so far."
According to the Marty Lyons Foundation's website, the foundation "has kept hope alive in the hearts of children with a terminal or life threatening illness by making their special wish come true! A fulfilled special wish has the ability to sweep the children and their family away from the daily heartache of illness. It is a joyous time that creates a wonderful memory and a better quality of life."
Having the support of his friends around the NHL has been a big help in seeing that wishes are granted, Atkinson said.
"These guys are all pretty local, and I'm so thankful they're participating in this event with me," he said. "I can't thank them enough. I absolutely want to make this an annual event and I hope it's big enough that people want to keep coming back every summer.
"I've had a lot of help from so many people, and I hope it's a huge success for these kids."
And that's what it's all about: bringing smiles to the faces of children who may have been distanced from happiness due to illness. While he hopes the event raises a lot of money for the foundation and becomes a smashing success, Atkinson knows the greatest gift is giving the children the best day of their lives.
"Any time you see these kids smile...if that doesn't touch your heart, I don't know what will," he said.