NATICK, Mass. – Matt Cacciapaglia knows now that dreams can come true.
Wednesday, the youth hockey player from Franklin, Mass., was surprised with tickets to the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic for himself and every other member of the Franklin Flyer Squirt 2 team during a surprise ceremony at a local Dick’s Sporting Goods.
To make the afternoon even more memorable, the haul of tickets was delivered by Boston Bruins legend and Hockey Hall of Fame member Ray Bourque, who was on hand for a question-and-answer session with the youth team at the store.
"This was so cool," said Matt, 10.
The tickets, as well as the shopping spree of Winter Classic merchandise that followed, were made by the Boston Bruins Foundation, represented by Executive Director Bob Sweeney, a former Bruins player, and Bourque, as well as Dick’s.
The gifts were the result of an email sent by Matt’s mother, Melissa Cacciapaglia, to the Bruins Foundation. The letter detailed her desire to have her son attend the Winter Classic and asked the Bruins Foundation for any help they might be able to provide.
“It was a very difficult letter to write,” Melissa said. “I’m not one to ask for things. It’s all about my kids and their wishes and their dreams and knowing that Matt had been a patient at [Boston] Children’s [Hospital] and how closely the Bruins work with Children’s, I was hoping that would be the angle that we could possibly get some help.
“Again, what the Bruins chose to do with it, to reach out to the NHL, to Dick’s, this was just nothing that I could ever dream up. It’s surreal.”
Matt has been treated at Children’s Hospital throughout his life, undergoing several surgeries to repair a cleft plate and cleft lip.
The ticket giveaway was the capping moment of an hour-long presentation that featured a lengthy presentation and Q and A with Bourque, one of the biggest stars on the Boston sporting landscape. Bourque played for the Bruins from 1979 to 1999 and won the Norris Trophy nine times.
Bourque spoke at length about his childhood in Montreal and how his time on the outdoor rinks of his neighborhood shaped the player he became. He also explained how respect was the most important thing for his success; telling the kids they needed to respect the game, respect their coaches, respect their teammates and, most importantly, respect themselves.
He also talked about his time with the Bruins, explaining why he thinks Terry O’Reilly is the ultimate Bruin and how his switch from No. 7 to No. 77 came about to honor another Bruins legend, Phil Esposito. He told the youth players why Wayne Gretzky was the hardest to play against and why Patrick Roy was the hardest goalie to beat.
When it was all over, Bourque hung around, helping the kids pick out sweaters, scarves and hats for their unexpected trip to the Winter Classic. He smiled as he took pictures with the kids and patted Matt Cacciapaglia on the back.
It was a special moment, he said afterward, one he savored, knowing his success at the game he loved as a kid allows him the opportunity to pay it forward to another generation.
“I never want to disappoint a kid,” he said. “I remember how I looked up to the players. I remember meeting [Montreal Canadiens defenseman] Serge Savard once when I was like 13 years old and he couldn’t have been nicer. The impact he had on me with how he treated me was fabulous, so I always remember that. Whenever there is a crowd around, you are looking for the kid, trying to see his eyes; a little handshake or a fist pump, just so he knows he was acknowledged and leaves with a smile on his face.”
Tuesday, everyone left with a smile on their face.