By Jenelyn Russo
It’s the event that Wild Wingers Kids Club members look forward to all season.
Last Saturday, the Anaheim Ducks hosted about 1,700 Kids Club members and their families at Knott’s Berry Farm for the club’s annual End of the Year Party.
As a part of club membership, kids were admitted free to the park for the special event, while family members received a discount on entrance tickets. Under sunny skies, Ducks fans were able to enjoy the day by taking in all of Knott’s rides, shows and attractions.
The highlight of the afternoon took place at Calico Square where Wild Wing and Anaheim Ducks television broadcaster John Ahlers welcomed the crowd and introduced the day’s special guests.
|“It’s always fun when you get to do things for the kids,” says Beleskey. “When I was younger, I know that was the highlight of my time, being able to see a NHL player. It’s just awesome that the fans give us that much support.” |
From the Ducks alumni, former Mighty Ducks goaltender and current analyst for Fox Sports West Guy Hebert was joined by the “stache” himself, George Parros. And two current Ducks players who are recovering from injuries, forward Matt Beleskey and defenseman Sami Vatanen, accompanied the alumni for a Q&A session.
Ahlers kicked off the festivities by checking in with the recently retired Parros to find out what he’s been up to since he hung up the skates last December. The former enforcer and fan favorite has kept busy by spending time with his family, working on his golf game and helping run his popular clothing venture, Violent Gentlemen.
When Vatanen and Beleskey stepped up to the mic, the question on all fans’ minds was when the two would be back on the ice. Both indicated that they were “close” in their recoveries, with possible returns within the week, and both were hopeful to join the Ducks on their current road trip.
Ahlers then handed the Q&A duties over to 10 lucky Kids Club members who had some creative questions of their own for the current and former players.
The pint-sized fans quizzed the special guests on everything from how they got their start in hockey, to who their favorite hockey player was growing up, to their favorite flavor of ice cream.
Both Beleskey and Vatanen said hockey in their respective home countries (Canada and Finland) was a natural route. Hebert had a brother who played hockey, and after getting thrown into goal one day, he never looked back. With a mom who taught figure skating, Parros grew up around the rink, but it was his dad who decided his son should give the game a try.
He talked of growing up a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and how he enjoyed watching former player and current owner of the Penguins, Mario Lemieux.
Growing up outside of Toronto, Beleskey admired the grit and physical play of former Maple Leaf, Wendel Clark, while Finland native Vatanen grew up watching former Ducks greatTeemu Selanne, which brought plenty of cheers from the fans. Vatanen said it was a “special moment” to be teammates alongside Selanne, both with the Ducks and on the Finnish national team in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
On the ice cream front, while Parros favors mint chocolate chip and Beleskey likes peanut butter chocolate, Vatanen keeps his ice cream choice simple, preferring just plain chocolate.
After wrapping up the Q&A, fans got the chance to participate in a meet-and-greet and autograph signing session with the current and former Ducks.
|“It’s always a nice event here. This is a fun one to do,” says Parros. “The fans have always been so good to me here. I’m very thankful for everyone around here, and it’s nice to come back and show some love back.” |
For club member Katrina Liao from Orange and her brother Garret, who have been Wild Wingers Kids Club members for five years, coming out to Knott’s for a day at the park and the chance to meet Ducks players in person is a priority each season.
“I like seeing the players and it’s cool that some of the kids get to ask questions,” says 13-year old Katrina. “Then later we get their autographs.”
“I like to go on the rides,” says 11-year old Garret. “And it was cool that Parros was here.”
In addition to admittance to Knott’s Berry Farm, this year’s Wild Wingers Kids Club membership included Ducks gear such as a t-shirt, a Wild Wing bobble head and a wall calendar, along with access to exclusive events and discounted Ducks game tickets.
For the Liao family, the $25 membership fee provides a way for both kids and parents to experience Ducks hockey at an affordable price.
“I think it’s great that the Wild Wingers Kids Club membership covers so many activities, including coming [to Knott’s Berry Farm] for free,” says Simon Liao, father to Katrina and Garret.
“Being parents of kids who are members of the Kids Club really keeps us engaged as to what’s going on with the Ducks,” adds Simon’s wife, Anna. “We look forward to this event every year.”
As a former Wild Wingers Kids Club Captain himself, Parros appreciates the chance to continue interacting with the fans who have shown him so much support over the years.
“It’s always a nice event here. This is a fun one to do,” says Parros. “The fans have always been so good to me here. I’m very thankful for everyone around here, and it’s nice to come back and show some love back.”
Beleskey, who has attended this event before, realizes it’s a memorable moment for kids to be able to meet their hockey heroes in person. The winger spent the afternoon signing everything from t-shirts, to shoes, to cell phone cases, all of which put smiles on the kids’ faces.
“It’s always fun when you get to do things for the kids,” says Beleskey. “When I was younger, I know that was the highlight of my time, being able to see a NHL player. It’s just awesome that the fans give us that much support.”
For more information on the Kids Club, visit www.wildwingerskidsclub.com.