In the end, Chris Zimmerman’s white team beat Dave Nonis’ blue squad 10-8. But that hardly mattered.
What was important was that the Canucks brass along with injured forward Matt Cooke and a host of former Canucks and Canuck Alumni members spent Saturday afternoon at the North Shore Winter Club raising money and awareness for a very good cause and a very special youngster.
Zimmerman, Nonis, Cliff Ronning, Garry Valk, Dave Babych and others like Columbus Blue Jacket Gilbert Brule and Kyle Turris, Central Scouting’s top-rated prospect for next week’s National Hockey League Entry Draft, all took part in the 5th annual MPS Cup. It’s a charity hockey game (followed by gala dinner) all in effort to aid mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS) research.
The hockey world and a host of average joes -- who paid a tidy sum to take part in the game and rub shoulders with the past, present and future NHL’ers – laced ‘em up to help Nicklas Harkins, an 11-year-old goalie at the North Shore Winter Club who seems like so many other hockey-loving 11-year-olds except for the fact he’s one of 4,000 people worldwide battling MPS – a rare and steadily debilitating disease caused by enzyme deficiency.
Nicklas is the eldest son of Todd and Kirsten Harkins and he comes by his love of the game honestly. His dad is a former Calgary Flame and Hartford Whaler who’s now the Director of Hockey at NSWC. His uncle, Todd’s brother, Brett is a former Boston Bruin, Florida Panther and Columbus Blue Jacket who’s now playing professionally in Sweden.
On Saturday, a couple of hundred people spent the afternoon watching the MPS Cup and cheering for Nicklas who started the game on the bench, but came on in relief to make several key stops to help his team – and Zimmerman’s -- win.
“My son played hockey with Nicklas this winter. He’s a very brave little guy and he just loves to play. It was funny after the second period, Matt Cooke came in and said: ‘Hey you’re playing well’ and he was complaining about the ones he should have had. He’s a fighter and it’s fun to be around a kid like that,” the Canucks C-E-O who patrolled right wing for his team said after the game. “Obviously Todd is a part of the Canuck family (playing with the alumni) and the opportunity for us to be a part of this event and help him and his wife support the research for this cause is a great thing.”
Dave Nonis spent Saturday afternoon roaming the ice from his left defence position for the blue team. And the Canucks GM, who was paired throughout the game with Todd Harkins, appeared to be in mid-season form.
“It depends what season you’re talking about,” he said with a laugh. “The last time I skated in a game? It was a while, probably the middle of the year. It’s been a while.”
Nonis’ souvenir from the afternoon on ice was a slight mark above his eye after being clipped late in the game by an errant high stick. It wasn’t much and he was able to laugh about it after the fact. In fact, everyone was in a good mood knowing they’d done their part for a very good cause by suiting up in the MPS Cup.
“There’s a lot of ailments and illnesses that don’t get the attention and awareness that they deserve and this is one of them,” said Nonis. “I think you see how hard Todd and his family have worked to raise awareness and raise some funds and they deserve to have the attention.”
Matt Cooke received plenty of attention from fans wanting pictures and autographs. The Canuck forward would have played in the MPS Cup had he been able to. But a sports hernia surgery two weeks earlier relegated him to the role of blue team coach. Still, he was glad to be part of the event and help out in any way he could.
“A lot of people take the health of their children for granted and this is just one cause that makes you think about how fortunate you are to have healthy kids. My wife and I started our own foundation because of that, trying to help out as much as we can,” he says. “This is an event I’ve been at the last four years – haven’t been able to play in the last two – but I’ve told them that as long as I can be here, I’ll be here to support them.”
And the support of Cooke, Nonis, Zimmerman and the entire Canucks organization is much appreciated by Todd Harkins and his family.
“When we started this event it was a little bit of an unknown. We started this venture, just Kirsten and I, and it was a small family thing and the involvement started with the Canucks alumni. It was an idea that I had about five years ago and as it started to grow and get legs and wings we started to pursue the NHL family, the current guys,” says Harkins. “It means so much to us because it’s part of the community now and we’re so happy to have them on board and supporting us. It means so much to us to have guys like Dave Nonis and Chris Zimmerman come out and support the event. It’s huge for the organization to show so much interest in our event. We appreciate it and I can’t even put it in words.”
On an afternoon like this one, words weren’t really necessary. The smile on Nicklas’ face after the game said it all. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about and why so many in the Canuck organization were happy to help out.
For information on MPS and the MPS Cup, visit mpssociety.ca and mpscup.ca
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com