Nearly 3,000 Wild Wingers Kids Club members and their families attended the End of the Year Party at Knott's Berry Farm
/ Special to AnaheimDucks.com
Nearly 3,000 Wild Wingers Kids Club members and their families converged on Knott's Berry Farm last Saturday as the Anaheim Ducks hosted the club's annual End of the Year Party.
Ducks TV play-by-play announcer John Ahlers and Wild Wing took to the Calico Mine Stage to welcome the crowd and introduce Kids Club captain Jakob Silfverberg, along with Ducks players Josh Manson, Nick Ritchie, Logan Shaw, Ondrej Kase and Brandon Montour.
With fans still celebrating the Ducks' 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs the previous night, Silfverberg kicked off the event by thanking the crowd for attending and for the honor of being the club's captain this season.
Ahlers then brought a few Kids Club members to the stage to assist in a Q&A session with the players, as the young fans inquired about everything from the curious to the creative.
When asked how they tune out fans during a game, or if they even do so, Shaw responded that not much compares to playing on Honda Center ice in front of a raucous home crowd.
"When the fans are good and loud, it's one of the best feelings," Shaw said.
They all agreed that living in Southern California offers plenty of opportunities to use their time away from the rink to experience the outdoors, as Silfverberg, Manson and Shaw enjoy getting in a round of golf when they can, while Montour has recently taken up surfing.
Nine-year-old Edith Vasquez wanted to know if the players had any talents outside of playing hockey, so Ahlers had the players answer the question about each other. Ritchie shared that Montour is an accomplished lacrosse player, but Manson couldn't quite convince Kase to show off his singing abilities in front the fans.
Vasquez is a student at Graham Elementary in South Los Angeles, where her school and her fourth grade teacher, Rachel Therrien, have been long-time dedicated participants in the Ducks S.C.O.R.E. (Scholastic Curriculum of Recreation and Education) Program, taking part in several of the program's initiatives, such as Reading is the Goal and the First Flight Field Trip.
Each year, Therrien personally purchases Kids Club memberships for every student in her class and provides transportation to bring them to the Knott's party for the chance to spend a day at the park and meet their favorite Ducks players.
"The Kids Club program is a great jumping off point for the students to be exposed to hockey for the first time and for them to interact with the game," Therrien said. "The kids get so excited to come here each year."
And thanks to street hockey equipment provided by the Ducks, Therrien is able to give her 29 fourth graders the chance to try the sport. By turning their desks on end to create a rink inside their classroom, the students get to work on their hockey skills, an opportunity Vasquez looks forward to each week.
"I get to be like a Ducks player and work with my team," Vasquez said. "I like how the players show teamwork and work together like a family."
Having confessed her favorite Ducks player is Manson, spending the day at Knott's with her classmates and meeting the blueliner was a dream come true for Vasquez.
"I feel special and excited," Vasquez said. "I've been looking forward to meeting the players and having a special day."
The $25 Kids Club membership provides not only free admission to the Knott's party, but admittance to other exclusive events throughout the season. This year's kit also includes a variety of Ducks gear such as a Silfverberg bobblehead and t-shirt, a Ducks jersey lunch bag, a mini hockey stick and puck set and a free ticket voucher for a select Ducks home game.
Silfverberg met a few of the fans in the park's arcade area prior to the start of the event and was appreciative of the enthusiasm and excitement from the crowd on hand.
"I'm really happy to be here," Silfverberg said. "Hopefully they will have a blast today. There's a lot of people out there, and hopefully they'll have a fun afternoon and enjoy it as much as we will."
After the conclusion of the Q&A session, fans got the opportunity to participate in a meet-and-greet and autograph signing session with the players.
In his second time attending the Kids Club party, Silfverberg acknowledged the impact seeing hockey players in person can have on young fans who might be new to the sport.
"I know from being a kid myself, you always looked up to the big guys," Silfverberg said. "They see us a lot on the TV, but it's nothing like meeting your 'hero' in person. Hopefully the kids can look up to us. If we can make them into Ducks fans early, hopefully they will continue that way."
Also in attendance for his second time at the annual event, Manson echoed Silfverberg's sentiments. "I know when I was a kid and had the chance to meet a hockey player, it changed my perception of them a little bit," Manson said. "When you see somebody on TV or you see them more from afar, and then if you can get that up close and personal meeting, it adds to the experience of being a fan.
"If that can make them get more involved in hockey in any kind of way, or bring them to more games, or maybe make them more passionate about the sport, then that's perfect."