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A special night

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
With how well Shawn Matthias has been playing of late, his performance last Wednesday night was very surprising.

First he whiffed on a shot going down the right wing, then he turned the puck over in front of the net, twice, before scoring on his own goal.

“I quit,” he laughed.

Quit? There’s no quit in hockey, but there is in table hockey, especially when you’re being shellacked 7-0 and loving every minute of it.

“My guys just weren’t ready,” said Matthias, before trying to blow a puck of the stick of his opponent, Nellie-Jo, a Special Olympics athlete for more than 20 years.

“There should be a mercy rule,” she smirked at Matthias.

The 16th annual Sports Celebrities Festival (SCF), presented by Silver Wheaton, took place at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver on November 12th and it began with Matthias and many of his teammates playing games against Special Olympians and event supporters.

In addition to four table hockey tables, there were four Ninentedo Wii U stations with Mario Kart 8 battles, pucks for bucks, two photobooths, a speed raffle, heads and tails and a Rolex raffle.

Since 1998, SCF has raised more than $3.2 million to support the valuable programs of two life-changing charities, the Canucks for Kids Fund and Special Olympics BC. No one is prouder of what this night allows the Canucks for Kids Fund and Special Olympics BC to achieve than this year’s poster boy and girl, Chris Higgins and Special Olympian Kristina Ettema.

Ettema, who delivered a beautiful keynote speech, has been involved with Special Olympics for more than 10 years and she doesn’t take her involvement with the organization lightly.

“Special Olympics has been a turnaround point in my life,” said the 32-year-old. “Everybody is so much fun to be around and it’s so much fun and everybody respects each other.”

Ettema described her experience last Wednesday evening as “the awesomest night ever” and she wasn’t even talking about having Higgins as her date. It was the Canucks forward who was the one honoured to be in presence of such an amazing athlete.

“It’s inspiring, personally from watching my sister, I know about their competitiveness and passion for their sports, it’s something that it rarely matched in pro hockey,” said Higgins. “I take inspiration from these athletes, it means everything to me.”

Higgins’ older sister Jeanne is a Special Olympics athlete in New York, their hometown. If you think making the NHL is unlikely, Jeanne story is truly one to admire.

“Our parents were told she wouldn’t walk when she was born, then she did when she was four,” Higgins explained. “She’s gone on to do some incredible things and she’s been competitive swimming through Special Olympics for a long time.”

Don’t bring up Higgins’ hockey career if you want to see him gush and raise his chest in pride, just mention Jeanne.

“To see how far she’s come and how much she’s grown, not only as a swimmer, but the relationships she has with the other participants and the coaches, means a lot to our family."

Higgins’ schedule is quite hectic during the season, so he doesn’t get to cheer on his big sister nearly as much as he’d like. Thankfully events such as the Sports Celebrities Festival keep her close.

”She’ll have an overnight meet and she’ll be packed and ready to go three weeks before, she’ll have all her DVDs lined-up for the bus trip and everything, that focus on something has meant a lot to my family.

“Special Olympians are more than that, they’re incredible.”

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