The nights they had their jerseys raised to the rafters by the Ducks were magical for both Paul Kariya and Scott Niedermayer, but the most fulfilling reward may have come Thursday afternoon in Orange County.
The two franchise legends and Hockey Hall-of-Famers joined members of the Ducks staff to visit the Orange County Ronald McDonald House and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim and present each organization with a check for $149,000. The two organizations are beneficiaries of the 9|27 Fund, established by Ducks owners Henry & Susan Samueli with Kariya and Niedermayer in conjunction with their jersey retirement nights from earlier in this Ducks 25th Anniversary season.
The 9|27 Fund comprises the net proceeds from special Kariya and Niedermayer merchandise available at Honda Center during and after both jersey retirement nights, as well as the Anaheim Ducks Foundation 50/50 raffle proceeds from both nights and additional miscellaneous fundraising. The proceeds - totaling close to $450,000 - were distributed evenly between the aforementioned nonprofits and the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, which supports a number of exemplary Southern California nonprofit organizations and facilitates education and youth hockey programs.
"It goes back to the very beginning when we first started talking about these jersey retirement nights," said Ducks Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Aaron Teats. "The first thing Paul and Scotty said was that they wanted all of the merchandise sales to go to charity. It starts there, and then it's a team effort through our group to work together and make sure we can make a special day like today.
"They're connected with our fan base forever, and with them willing to unite with those fans through merchandise sales to do something like this to make someone else's life better, it's pretty special."
The afternoon's first stop was at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House, which opened in 1989 and "has provided comfort, care and support to children and families in Southern California" with the hope of creating "a community where children and their families embrace life and healing with a sense of hope, enthusiasm, courage and joy by keeping families close to each other and the care they need."
Kariya and Niedermayer met with staff and guests of the facility, which has actually been over capacity since 2012, according to Executive Director Noel Burcelis. He indicated the proceeds from the 9|27 fund could be used in their plan to add 24 more guest rooms to serve the community.
"I can only imagine that's the worst thing that can happen as a parent is to have a sick child, and the last thing you want to worry about is accommodations and expenses when your child is sick," Kariya said, lauding the work that the Ronald McDonald House does.
Many of the families embraced by the Ronald McDonald House have been treated to Ducks games through the Antis Roofing Community Corner, which donates tickets to select nonprofits in the Orange County area.
"As I was just sharing with [Paul and Scott], when they give our families an opportunity to forget their condition, when they give them moments of laughter and joy, those things are priceless for our families," Burcelis said. "One mom shared with me, 'My child has been sick for seven months, and it's been awhile since I've seen him smile.' But for him to cheer and laugh, that's medicine in itself for the soul. It's phenomenal for us. We see them as a respite for our families and the patients that we serve.
"What price tag do you put on the shared memories, moments away from the hospital, that we provide for our families? For the Ducks to offer that, to reach out to us and be mindful of the work we do, we very much appreciate it. We're so fortunate to have them as a partner."
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim provides "programs and services to promote and enhance the development of boys and girls by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence" and it's an organization close to Kariya's heart. He has supported the organization dating back to when he signed his first pro contract with the Ducks nearly a quarter century ago.
Yesterday was his second visit in the last year to the organization, which was designated as one of the five beneficiaries of merchandise sales from the Hall of Fame Night for Kariya and Teemu Selanne held last season. They played a pickup hockey game last year on the playground with dozens of kids in the Club, and Kariya and Niedermayer did it again Thursday afternoon - with Kariya's team the clear winner.
"I beat Teemu last year and now Scotty, so I'm 2-0. I've been scouting the kids for the last week or so, so I have a few ringers," Kariya said with a laugh. "But it was a lot of fun seeing the smiles on their faces. It was great."
The emotions could be seen clearly on the face of John Machiaverna, Executive Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim, especially when the amount of the donation was revealed Thursday afternoon.
"It literally made me cry," said Machiaverna, who indicated part of the money raised would go toward purchasing a new vehicle the Club will use to transport 50 to 75 children per day. "The Ducks organization has been a tremendous asset to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Anaheim. To see them interact with the kids, the money is phenomenal, but the memories that will be built here for these children they will never forget. You can't put a price tag on that."
Niedermayer, who lives with his family in Penticton, British Columbia these days, flew into Orange County just to take part in yesterday's tour. "It was a lot of fun to be out there and see how much it meant to everybody," he said. "That made it all seem to be real and it was very rewarding for sure to see the people there who are on the front lines and helping those who need help. Seeing the money that was raised through the Ducks organization and our fans who actually bought the merchandise those nights, without any of that, none of this would have happened."
Kariya called the experience "incredible" but in typically humble fashion, he deflected the credit to others. "Scott and I were joking, we did absolutely nothing," he said. "All of the fans who supported our fund, we can't thank you enough. It's just an incredible thing for us to present those checks on the behalf of all the fans who supported us. It's unbelievable. What a great day for us."