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by Doug Ward / Los Angeles Kings
In holding opponents to just over two goals per game this season, the Kings have cemented their reputation as one of hockey’s most uncharitable teams.

Off the ice, however, you might not recognize the Kings.

The organization has made a habit of giving. The Kings give time, tickets and money, and the charity starts at home.

The LA Kings Community Corner gives local youth the opportunity to attend games at STAPLES Center. Over 15,000 tickets are distributed each season to local non-profit organizations, thanks to the support of Kings players, corporate sponsors and season ticket holders.

For six Kings, however, that wasn’t enough.

Every time the Kings take to the STAPLES Center ice, Brad Richardson and Scott Parse (After School All-Stars), Mike Richards (Padres Contra El Cancer), Dustin Penner (Salvation Army), Jonathan Bernier (Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles), and Simon Gagne (Leukemia Lymphoma Society) donate four lower bowl tickets to deserving Kings fans.

Bernier goes a step further. The Kings’ goaltender not only sponsors “Bernier’s Angels,” and donates four prime tickets to each game, but he also meets with the four recipients after every game.

“Jonathan loves doing it and it’s from the heart,” said Kings Manager of Community Relations Jennifer Pope. “Nobody told Jonathan he had to do it, or even asked him to do it. Jonathan came to us with the idea. He even came up with the name for it.”

Bernier was moved to action after visiting local children’s hospitals on behalf of the Kings.

“When you go to a hospital,” Bernier said, “it is such a sad day. These kids all want to do sports. They all want to do something in their life and they all have goals. When these kids come to a game, I know they really enjoy it. I am thrilled to be able to give them that gift.”

Bernier gets a particular kick out of the face-to-face postgame meetings.

“You might have had a bad game,” he said, “but then you sign something for them or take a picture with them, and you see the smile on their face. After that, you have a different mindset.”

Bernier, who first became involved with charitable organizations while playing in Juniors, says the joy of giving never gets old.

“Every time is special,” Bernier said. “I have met kids who are very young and others who are as old as 18, and every time, you can tell - either by their smile, or the way they shake your hand, or the way they give you a hug - that they really appreciate it.”

Bernier’s desire to give back is a common bond among Kings’ players. Kings captain Dustin Brown sets a tone for the team both on the ice and in the community.

“Last year, Dustin Brown won the NHL Foundation Award for his work in the community, and he has had a big influence on the team,” Pope said.

In addition to wearing the captain’s “C” on the ice, Brown is also the Kings leader in the community. Last season, he donated $50 for each of his 300 hits to contribute a total of $15,000 to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit. 

Brown and his wife, Nicole, also began KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America. Brown’s per-hit donation plan raised $60,000 to build a new playground in Carson that now hosts more than 100 kids per day.

Additionally, Brown hosted Will McCloud, a six-year-old boy who was battling leukemia, for an unforgettable day behind the scenes at STAPLES Center and then the following night at the Kings-Wild game last season through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Brown has also served as the team spokesman for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, an organization dedicated to providing support for clinical research in pediatric cancer, while improving the medical environment for all children.

Brown isn’t the only veteran King setting a positive example for the younger players.

“Our veteran players like (Anze Kopitar) Kopi and (Willie) Mitchell do a lot of stuff and that has an impact, too,” said Pope. “Our younger players see that and they want to follow their example. Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford are two of our younger players who came up to me and said they wanted to do something in the community.”

After 44 people perished in the crash of a plane carrying the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey team in Russia, the wives and girlfriends of Kings players stepped up and began selling red silicone “Love for Lokomotiv” bracelets, with proceeds going to support families of the victims. Kyle Clifford wanted to do more.

“Kyle came up to me with an expense check that was for about $500,” Pope said. “He just said, ‘I want to donate this.’ That’s the kind of players we have with the Kings.”

The players make Pope’s job easy.

“Our players are all great guys,” Pope said. “Working for a hockey team is great to start with, but coming in and working with players who are so committed to making a difference makes it even more rewarding. When you work with players who come up to you with a desire to get involved in the community, you know it’s genuine. It’s not forced.”

Pope says it’s hard to know who gets a bigger thrill out of the ticket giveaway program – the Kings’ players who give the tickets or the kids who receive them.

“The kids get really excited to come to our games,” Pope said. “The players get really excited because they know the kids love it. They want them to sit down low, close to the ice, so they can really get a feel for the game.”

Bernier does a meet-and-greet with his ticket recipients after every game, win or lose, but with the ticket program, everyone wins.
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