MONTREAL - The second annual Gorges Comeau HOMEBASE Charity Slo-Pitch Tournament is just two weeks away in the Okanagan Valley.
Founded by former Canadiens defenseman, Josh Gorges, and Dallas Stars forward, Blake Comeau, the event raises funds in support of JoeAnna's House, a home away from home at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) for families travelling for care.
Elks Stadium will play host to the opening festivities on Friday, June 28, including an autograph signing session and NHL All-Star match featuring a host of current and former players.
Shea Weber, Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher and Karl Alzner will be representing the current edition of the Habs, while alums Joe Morrow, Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque, James Wisniewski and Colby Armstrong will also be on site.
That will be followed by a round-robin co-ed tournament on Saturday, June 29, which is expected to feature 24 teams at Mission Sports Fields.
At the inaugural event, $117,000 was raised to help with the construction of JoeAnna's House, which according to Gorges is scheduled to be completed later on this year.
As a result of the veteran blueliner's own personal experiences, assisting families forced to travel for medical care is a cause that is near and dear to his heart.
"It goes way back to when I was a kid. My brother was sick and we didn't have any facilities in Kelowna, so my parents had to fly him to the Children's Hospital in Vancouver. Luckily, we've got family we were able to stay with, but not everybody has that fortune," explained Gorges, a Kelowna native. "Before the tournament last summer, I met a few of the patients at the hospital. I spoke with one mom who had just delivered her child. They were about two hours away from home and had to take an emergency flight to get there to have the baby. The father had to keep on working. After his shift, he would drive two hours to see them. He didn't even have a parking spot. He would sleep on the couch and drive back in the morning. There wasn't even any food for them. And they were a family scraping by to begin with. Somebody going through a tough time like that shouldn't have to worry about having enough money to pay for parking, having enough money to pay for lunch, or driving back to work to make ends meet. Listening to her tell the story was eye-opening. This was wrong."
The funds raised from this edition of the event will ultimately assist with the operation and maintenance of JoeAnna's House once it opens its doors to family members of patients admitted to KGH.
"They've done enough funding, including with what we raised last year, to build it. But, there also needs to be funding to keep it going. Food and power and TVs and different things, couches and beds, it's kind of never ending really," added Gorges. "There are things that are constantly going to be needing funding to keep up and running."
Helping out in his hometown means the world to Gorges, a full-time resident of the city along with his wife, Maggie, and young sons, Noah and Jayden.
"It's a tight community. Everyone kind of knows everyone. You bump into people you know all the time. When we go out there for the tournament, we'll see people that we've known for years and years, meet a bunch of new people, and it's like they're a part of the family," said Gorges, who is hoping to double the sum raised this time around. "I think the biggest thing we take away from this weekend is we do a great job raising a lot of money for a very worthwhile cause. It's a great way to get outside and have some fun."
Gorges' squad will be entering the tournament as the defending champions, so the fact that he has put in some light prep work already shouldn't come as a surprise.
"I got out and hit a few balls with Carey one day, and then my wife and I and the kids went to the batting cages for one day. That's been the extent of our practicing so far," cracked Gorges. "We're going to try and get out on the field with everybody the week of the tournament and try to get just a bit of a better feel for the game."
Luckily, Gorges can depend on Gallagher's presence in his lineup again to give his group a boost.
"He's an important player for our team. He brings a lot," praised Gorges, who is well aware of the Canadiens' assistant captain's skill set on the diamond - including the fact that he plays in a slo-pitch league during the offseason. "He's one of our better players, so we really count on him."
As for the significant number of Habs slated to lace up their cleats in Kelowna, Gorges was touched by the response.
"We've got a squad almost full of Montreal guys. It's the best part of it. I truly believe that hockey guys are the best. Guys are always looking to help each other and help out the community," he concluded. "You become so close with these people when you play with them, then they get traded or their careers end, and you kind of separate and lose touch. It's a great opportunity to get everyone back and check in and see how everyone's doing again."
Click here to learn more about the Gorges Comeau HOMEBASE Charity Slo-Pitch Tournament.
Click here to purchase tickets to the festivities on Friday, June, 28 at Elks Stadium.
Click here to purchase 50/50 tickets, if you reside in British Columbia. The draw will be held on Saturday, June 29 at 7:30 p.m. PT.