At the tender age of 23, LA Kings forward, Tyler Toffoli
, has already been turning heads with his play on the ice. On Monday, with the goal he scored against the Vancouver Canucks, Toffoli became the first Kings player to score 30 goals in a season since the 2009-10 campaign. Going into Thursday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, Toffoli led the entire NHL with a plus/minus rating of plus-35.
While these are certainly accolades that Toffoli strives for and his coaches and teammates appreciate, Toffoli has also been making his mark elsewhere, and that’s within the Kings’ community outreach efforts.
Last year, Toffoli was awarded the Jim Fox Community Service Award, as chosen by the Kings Care Foundation, awarded annually at the end of the season to the player that best exemplifies strong community outreach by actively working with local youth organizations and community groups to increase awareness and raise funds to support the Kings community signature initiatives – education, health-related causes, and recreation.
While electing to stay in Los Angeles for most of last summer, Toffoli made a voluntary trip to visit patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; greeted Special Olympics participants at Toyota Sports Center, the Kings’ training facility; and even made visits to libraries to read to kids as part of the Kings mascot Bailey’s Summer Read-A-Longs. That’s just to name a few.
“Tyler is very eager, willing and able. He’s young, he’s energetic and he wants to give back. He sees what a difference he can make,” said Jennifer Pope, the Kings’ Senior Director of Community Relations and Kings Care Foundation. “He has a little bit more time on his hands than some of our older veterans – since he doesn’t have children -- so he doesn’t like to sit around. He wants to keep busy and he likes to keep busy by helping other people.”
Toffoli is also the face of Lil’ Kings, a program the Kings created to afford young kids the opportunity to play hockey for the first time at a reasonable price. Toffoli took the time to speak at the Lil’ Kings graduation ceremony last year, in addition to watching practices, games and taking the time to greet and pose for photos with the kids.
“We started the Lil’ Kings program a couple years ago and we were looking for people to be involved and obviously these kids look up to our players, they are who they want to be. So when you have someone like Tyler who’s young, who these kids can really relate to, he was the perfect face,” Pope says.
Kids who signed up for the 2016 Lil’ Kings program also received an autographed Toffoli player card.
“He willingly signed thousands of cards for us, which I know is a little time-consuming, but he did it happily and easily, no questions asked,” added Pope.
For Toffoli, the desire and inspiration to become so involved in the community comes from home.
“Growing up, my parents just told me to be polite and all those things. It’s not really hard and I don’t feel like I go out of my way, it’s something that I enjoy doing. It’s easy for me to go out of my way and stop by a place for an hour, say ‘hey’ and make some kids happy,” Toffoli said.
A native of Scarborough, Ontario, Toffoli grew up with two sisters. Their stay-at-home mom took care of them and never missed any of Toffoli’s hockey games. Dad worked overtime to provide for the family, and his work ethic has definitely rubbed off on his son.
“When I go to an event or I see little kids, they get so excited,” said Toffoli, who turns 24 later this month. “I know how I was when I was younger and I’d go see professionals or even teams or players playing Junior hockey in the OHL and I was super excited. Just being able to give back a little bit, my parents are always saying how happy and proud they are of what I do.”
Recently Toffoli’s dad was visiting LA, and after a game at STAPLES Center, the two had an interesting conversation.
“He looks at me in the car and said ‘there are a lot of Toffoli jerseys in the stands,’ and I laughed and said ‘yeah, I see them once in a while,’” Toffoli says. “He was pretty excited because obviously growing up, you don’t expect something like this to happen, so it’s really exciting to see little kids and it’s always fun when they say I’m their favorite player.”
While he hasn’t yet identified a cause or organization he’s particularly passionate about, most of Toffoli’s work is associated with the Kings Care Foundation, Wags and Walks via Jeff Carter’s wife, Megan, and the Hydrocephalus Association on behalf of Pope’s son, Charlie. Toffoli concedes that one day founding an organization of his own is a definite possibility, but one he won’t think about until the summer.
Toffoli admitted that many of his community appearances are with Kings Broadcaster, Daryl Evans, who does the brunt of the work, and Bailey, whom all the kids love, which makes it easy for Toffoli just to tag along.
“It’s fun and it’s good to see how happy people are. Sometimes the drives out to wherever it is is pretty brutal, but at the end of the day it’s worth it. It’s a great experience and I love doing it,” says Toffoli, who, in March of 2015, was out at the opening of the Kings Science of Hockey Exhibit at Discovery Cube Los Angeles, which is quite a trek from his South Bay home.
Toffoli understands the value of time, both for him and for his teammates.
“A lot of the guys have kids and other stuff going on, and to be honest I don’t have a whole lot going on, I don’t do a whole lot, so it’s easier for me to go and take time out of my day,” said Toffoli, who is playing in his fourth NHL season.
Recently Toffoli participated in a special appearance at Sprinkles Cupcakes in downtown LA, where he tested frosting and cake flavors in order to create his own Sprinkles Cupcake, which he will name himself. Sprinkles will then sell the cupcake at all Los Angeles locations from April 15-30 to coincide with the start of the playoffs. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Kings Care Foundation.
“We always like to play off our fans and our players’ personalities, so when Tyler got the nickname ‘Cupcake’ from our fans, I thought we’d do something fun around it,” said Pope. “We reached out to Sprinkles Cupcakes, told them about Tyler, and brainstormed what we could do.”
The owner of Sprinkles is personally overseeing the project, and is working with the Kings on logos and Toffoli emojis as possible cupcake décor.
“It’s really cool, and I talked to my parents about it, and they’re obviously thinking it’s really awesome,” remarked Toffoli, who is a fan of Sprinkles’ Red Velvet and Vanilla cupcakes. “I don’t know if our trainer is going to be too thrilled when I bring in two dozen cupcakes, but he’s going to have to understand.”
Toffoli doesn’t do much baking at home, which he claims is a good thing.
“I have enough treats, I don’t need to be baking them myself,” Toffoli said.
Like the cupcake, most of Toffoli’s work is on display for the all to see, whether it’s on or off the ice. But according to Pope, one of the greatest things about Toffoli isn’t something everyone is privileged to.
“I think what people don’t see about him is when he’s at the hospital or around families, he’s so genuine with everyone and really cares. When he’s talking to you, he’s talking to you, he’s not worrying about something else or looking around, he’s really focused on who he’s talking to and trying to make a difference in their life,” she says. “He realizes how far he’s come and that he can really make a difference in someone’s life now, and I don’t think he takes that for granted.”
For someone so young to have Toffoli’s talent and character, he deserves to have his (Cup)cake… and eat it too.