One of the ultimate win-win events in hockey takes place this weekend in Sudbury, Ontario.
The annual NHL vs. Docs hockey game fundraiser, hosted by Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno, provides good times for a good cause.
For the many NHL players taking part, it's a chance to enjoy each other's company in a relaxed summer setting while doing good for the northern Ontario community.
For those in Sudbury, the offseason home of the Foligno family, it's a chance to see high-level hockey in the summer and raise money for the NEO Kids Foundation, which raises funds to purchase vital pieces of equipment, conduct life-changing research and increase awareness for children's health needs in the region.
"I think it's become a really fun event just because of the time between seeing your teammates and seeing them again," said Foligno, who along with his wife Janelle will welcome Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Brandon Dubinsky, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Scott Harrington to Sudbury for the event.
Video: Jackets rally community to benefit children's health
"You just anxiously await seeing the guys and having fun with them and knowing you're doing it all for a great cause, obviously something that is near and dear to my family's heart. It makes it such a great weekend because I'm humbled by these guys coming up and sharing their time with us. I know how valuable time is in the summer. I think we're all here for a great time, and I try to host them as best I can and show them the best side of Sudbury, and we have a lot of fun doing it.
"It's turned into a really cool event, and the community has rallied behind it, which is the most important thing. We've been able to really raise a lot of money and awareness for what we're trying to do here."
Sudbury, located north of the Georgian Bay northeast of Lake Huron, is a more than four-hour drive from Toronto and more than five hours from Ottawa, cities that have children's care facilities. The ultimate goal of Foligno and the NEO Kids Foundation is to build a similar such facility in Sudbury, the largest city in Northern Ontario and home to more than 160,000 people.
Last year's event raised more than $215,000, and the hope is to bring in even more this time around. Players from around the NHL, including Foligno and his CBJ teammates as well as Matt Duchene, John Tavares, Marc Staal, Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Duclair, will arrive for a lake day on Saturday before taking part in the charity game on Sunday.
There will be a autograph session before the game, which features the NHL players and doctors from the community. All will skate together before the NHL players finish things off by playing against one another, and a meet-and-greet will follow the game.
Around 3,000 fans are expected, Foligno said.
"It shows what kind of fans they are of hockey first and foremost," Foligno said, "but this is also something the people really want here. They want to see it get done. They want to see NEO kids become a health facility for children. We're an area of Northern Ontario that's affected by a lot of things with our children, and we need to take care of them closer to home.
"For them to come out, as much as they enjoy a great game out of it, they're speaking more by their attendance that this is something they believe in and something they want to get done. That's the biggest message I want to get across is the masses are speaking, so let's make sure we do this and do it right."
Foligno, of course, has a personal stake in the matter as well. His daughter, Milana, was born with a heart defect and had to undergo surgery to replace a heart valve in the early days of her life. In late December of last year, Foligno left the Blue Jackets for more than a week as, after a fall illness, the now 5-year-old Milana had to travel to Boston for surgery related to the situation. The captain also missed four games late in the season when his son Hudson battled pneumonia.
Having lived through such trying personal circumstances - as well as the death of his mother, Janis, from breast cancer in 2009 - Foligno feels it's important to use his platform as an NHL player to do good.
"I've been through a lot obviously just losing my mother, and my daughter and her situation," Foligno said. "I just think it empowers you when you're able to give back. I think so many times with health, you feel helpless or hopeless and things are out of your control. When you can give back, I find it's a way you can put things in your control and dictate how you want things to go.
"It gives you a good feeling that you're making a difference because you can't the other ways. I'm not as smart as a doctor to able to help my daughter or find a cure for cancer. I wish I was, but there's people in the world that can do that, right? So this is our way of contributing to that and this is our way of making a difference."