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Back to School, Back to Hockey

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins - On Tuesday, I ventured on my usual walk onto the arena level at TD Garden, down the corridor and past the B's locker room, out to where a full sheet of ice usually awaits.

Though, on this Tuesday, pregame skate wasn't finishing up; the arena instead was becoming filled with hundreds - and soon, thousands - of kids from Boston-area schools.

It was part of the second annual "Back-to-School Celebration," which brings in more than 4,000 Greater Boston students in need, who receive proper academic supplies, along the with unique opportunity to participate in activities with their families on the TD Garden floor.

"This is really the doing of Garden Neighborhood Charities, the Bruins Foundation in collaboration with the Salvation Army and the city," said Bruins Principal and Alternate Governor Charlie Jacobs, who helped kick off the event with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and other members of the Boston community. The event was sponsored by the Boston Bruins Foundation, which Jacobs and his family founded in 2003.

"It’s about having kids get off to the right foot, so to speak, for the start of the school year."

On the floor of the arena, in the area where Tuukka Rask's net usually stands, there was indeed a net and a goalie, but it was painted on a backdrop and enclosed in a blown-up "shooting lane," where a young girl who couldn't have been more than six years old stood, grinning with a hockey stick grasped in her hands.

At the bottom of Rask's right faceoff circle, the actual NHL nets stood, along the boards, surrounded by pop-ups of the B's netminder, David Krejci and Milan Lucic. There, a young boy, outfitted in his neon green event t-shirt that displayed the spoked-B on the back, learned how to hold a hockey stick. It may have been a foot too big, but he still smiled and swatted the street hockey ball towards the goal.

As Top-40 pop music blasted throughout TD Garden, the Bruins' mascot Blades made his rounds, the Celtics' nets were set up to shoot on, and the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion banner hung a few inches off the ground near the end boards for plenty of picture taking. Jacobs also presented Mayor Menino with a "Mayor of Champions Cup" and plaque, as he is the only mayor in North America to preside over a city that won World Championships in all four major sports during his tenure.

The day brought me back to the community initiatives I was able to be more an active part of during the lockout all last Fall, with no B's hockey to cover. In every NHL and major sports city, it's expected that the team has a presence around the community. The namesake - and in this case, the spoked-B - carries much weight. But I'm always impressed with the initiative the organizations often take to find new, creative ways to help out.

Last August, when Garden Neighborhood Charities - the philanthropic arm of TD Garden - and the mayor's office came together, they decided a "Back-to-School Celebration" would be something the kids could look forward to before the school year got under way. Studies had also shown that children who did not have new school supplies at the beginning of the academic year often skipped the first several important weeks of class because they felt embarrassed and believed they didn't fit in with their peers.

This event served to provide a positive experience for the children, while getting them ready and confident about heading into the classroom.

"So we started this backpack initiative and elected to host it here - this year, we have 4,000 kids here," said Jacobs. "They’ll come in, they’ll get a backpack and supplies. They’ll also go through some educational components about healthy eating, and be able to make appointments to see a dentist and doctors. We really open up the whole building."

And just as the B's are busy preparing to hit the ice next month, these kids are prepping to hit the books. This event was just another step in the process.

"This is like getting your skates on, your equipment for the new season," said Jacobs. "These kids will have everything they need to kick off the school year."

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