BOSTON - While the ice is still months away from being a fixture at TD Garden, the voice of Bruins' radio play-by-play announcer Dave Goucher boomed from inside the arena on Tuesday afternoon.
Instead of calling out passes, goals and hits, though, he was bringing life to a backpack stuffing competition on the arena floor.
Bruins Principal Charlie Jacobs and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were helping each other fill new backpacks with notebooks, pencils, other school supplies and notes of encouragement for young Boston students, all with a timer on the clock, in the spirit of competition.
"Oh, we have a fumble!" Goucher jokingly called out, as an errant pencil fell to the floor amidst the challenge. "Colored pencils, don't forget the colored pencils!"
The challenge helped kick off the Backpack Stuff-A-Thon at TD Garden, which saw volunteers pack more than 4,000 new backpacks with school supplies for Boston-area students in need.
The backpacks will be distributed at the 3rd Annual Back-to-School Celebration later this August, an event organized by Garden Neighborhood Charities - the philanthropic arm of TD Garden - The Salvation Army and the City of Boston.
Jacobs and the Mayor teamed up against TD Garden President Amy Latimer and Major Ivan Rock from The Salvation Army for the competition.
It served as a demonstration of the three main goals of the Back-to-School Celebration: prepare students in-need with supplies and confidence for a successful school year, promote regular physical activity and reinforce healthy nutrition and wellness habits.
"This has been a great event, and it's really to help the kids in the inner-city who need backpacks, need school supplies and this year we'll get roughly 5,000 backpacks out into the community," said Jacobs. "The Mayor was here and we had a nice competition to see who could pack their backpack more quickly and it's a great success so far, really well-received."
"We do this in conjunction with the Salvation Army here in Boston, so it's a lot of great organizations really coming together for a great cause."
The strong relationship among the Bruins, TD Garden, the City of Boston and The Salvation Army has made this event possible for the past three years.
"This is really a collaboration of the TD Garden Neighborhood Charities, the Boston Bruins Foundation and the building itself here, so we really try to get this all together and work for the Salvation Army and get those backpacks into the hands of the kids that really need it most," said Jacobs.
The initiative was created in 2012, based on studies showing that children who do not have new school supplies at the beginning of the academic year often skip the first several important weeks of class because they are embarrassed and believe that they don't fit in with their peers.
To help curb this trend, Garden Neighborhood Charities has donated nearly $100,000, combined with the support provided by the Boston Bruins Foundation and Massachusetts Sportservice. Donations, volunteer support and educational resources for the event have continued to increase every year.
"This event is just so important. So many of our kids, they head to school without the supplies they need," said Major Rock. "Their behavior suffers, they tend not to go to school as frequently and they fall behind and they never catch up, so that's why the Salvation Army, the Garden and the City partner to make this event special."
"We want these kids to have the best possible start to the school year as possible."
"Garden Neighborhood Charities is our extension, and we want to be a good neighbor," added Latimer. "We think this is a great way to give back to the kids, getting them ready for school."
"The Mayor's Office is instrumental in helping us with that, and then The Salvation Army, we couldn't do it without them, they help identify the children, and really it's just a great partnership amongst all three."
Within an hour, the volunteers at TD Garden had mounds of backpacks ready for the kids to start the school year in style.
And for those who maybe aren't so keen on hearing the words "back to school" (no matter your age), the phrase also suggests that hockey season is on its way.
"I know - camp's around the corner and it's nice to read the paper this morning and see stories about the Bruins and this upcoming season," Jacobs smiled.
For families interested in registering for a backpack through the Back-to-School Celebration initiative, please visit your local Salvation Army Community Center or www.salvationarmyma.org/backtoschool by August 26, while supplies last.