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Boeser, Gardiner enjoy special game against fans

NHLers hit ice alongside Minnesota players with disabilities at Da Beauty League

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. -- Ask 22-year-old Jessica Boeser who the better hockey player is between her and her brother, Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser, and she'll proudly tell you he is.

However, Jessica is the one who starred during a 10-minute 5-on-5 game at Braemar Ice Arena on Monday, scoring one goal and one assist, besting her little brother, who had no points. 

Jessica and Brock were among the players who participated in a Unified Showcase between playoff games in Da Beauty League, where a host of NHL players with ties to Minnesota are playing games for charity through Wednesday. Twelve Minnesota Special Hockey athletes with intellectual and social disabilities joined 12 NHL players to form two teams of six in a showcase game.

"It's awesome. She's been one of my biggest fans throughout my whole hockey career, so now I get to support her," said Boeser, 20, who had five points in nine games with the Canucks last season. "I love being able to see her and all of her friends playing hockey. It's a real treat for me. I'm excited I got to be a part of it." 

Being an advocate for those with special needs is nothing new to Boeser. In May 2016, he attended prom with a girl with Down syndrome after she invited him on social media.

Founded in the spring of 2006, Minnesota Special Hockey is home to more than 180 players and 10 teams, comprised of all ages, spanning across the state. The season opens the first week of November and runs until the first week of March, with tournaments and festivals in between hour-long games and practices. 

"Anybody in Minnesota that wants to play hockey can play hockey," Minnesota Special Hockey president Jane Cashin said. "There is such a high level of hockey here in Minnesota, that if for some reason a kid can't play typical hockey, we want to be there for them so they can play the game that really is our game in Minnesota."

Cashin's son, 23-year-old Sam, was another one of the Minnesota Special Hockey players on the ice Monday. He began playing hockey at age 2, but persistent seizures made playing on an organized team difficult. With Minnesota Special Hockey he didn't have to give up the game he was growing to love, and has elevated his hockey skills year after year, making friends along the way.

"It's just about having fun with my friends out there and just playing as a team and playing games," Sam said. 

Amid the friendly competition, there were bragging rights on the line for Sam on Monday. He was playing against his brother-in-law, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner.

"I'm going to try and score a goal against him," Sam said of Gardiner, who is married to Sam's sister, Lucy. 

He succeeded -- twice.

"Yeah, he's one up on me there. He's definitely pretty good," Gardiner said. "[Sam's] been talking about this game for the past few days, so I know how excited he was to get out there and play.

"For us it's a good reminder of how lucky we are to play hockey, and how special it is for these guys to just get out and play, too. With showcases like this, they get to hear their names announced when they score and you see their celebrations and how pumped they are. It gets us NHL guys really pumped, too. 

"It's like their Stanley Cup, and we are all just happy to be a part of it."

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