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Johnny Gaudreau, Matt Stajan boost young fan's cause

Flames players, staff members helping Haylen's Shop

by Cristina Ledra @cledra / Staff Writer

Haylen's Shop was open for business again Tuesday.

Six-year-old Haylen Astalos, a fan of the Calgary Flames and forward Johnny Gaudreau, had his makeshift wooden stand parked in front of a car dealership near Calgary, selling ice cream and raising money for charity. 

It's a scene that has become very familiar around Calgary, and thanks to Haylen's hard work, commitment to charity and his love of the Flames, he has made some famous friends. 

"He's a pretty inspirational kid for a lot of guys on our team, including me and Matt Stajan and a lot of guys," Gaudreau told earlier this month. "So it's great to see what he's doing, and I'm happy for him."

Haylen has been raising money for a local Ronald McDonald House by selling ice cream and hot chocolate, either in his front yard or in front of a car dealership or supermarket. 

In less than two years he has raised more than $10,000, setting and reaching different fundraising goals along the way. Haylen, who had raised more than $5,000 with two previous fundraisers, reached his latest goal by totaling $5,013 on July 8. He had set that number as his goal Jan. 1 as a tribute to Gaudreau, who wears No. 13 for the Flames.

The feat drew a shout-out on Twitter from the Flames forward.

Tweet from @johngaudreau03: Congratulations Haylen! That's great news! @HaylensShop @RMHCentralAB

"It's pretty cool to see a little kid looking up to me like that, setting his goal in money for No. 13," Gaudreau said. "I was pretty touched by the story and I try to keep in touch with him as much as I can through Twitter."

Gaudreau and the Flames first met Haylen in January, when he got to operate Haylen's Shop outside their locker room, selling cups of hot chocolate to members of the team as they came off the ice.

The opportunity to do so was a reward for Haylen's charitable efforts, which caught the attention of Stajan's wife, Katie. A Twitter interaction with Haylen's mother, Tabitha, led Katie to read about Haylen.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" Katie Stajan said. "This little kid is so amazing and such a little inspiration to everybody because of what he's doing, these random acts of kindness. So I said to Matt, 'Look at this kid,' and I showed him and I'm like, 'I really want us to do something and surprise him.'"

Haylen's project started with his fifth birthday party, when his parents asked guests to bring him two $5 bills in lieu of gifts. He would use half the money to buy himself a present (a monster truck) and the other half would go to a charity of his choice from a list his parents gave him. He picked the Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer, Alberta, after his parents explained that the facility allows families to stay there when their children are receiving care in the hospital.

Haylen went to the facility, near his hometown of Blackfalds, Alberta, to make the $100 donation and receive a tour. His parents thought that would be the end of Haylen's charitable work. It wasn't. Not by a long shot.

"About two months later, he asked if he could do an ice cream shop," said Tabitha Astalos, who thought her son wanted to keep the money for himself but was surprised to find out he wanted to continue helping others.

Haylen's goal, his mother said, was to keep "filling the bucket" and taking it to Ronald McDonald House to "help all the sick kids in the world."

Through mostly ice cream sales, Haylen has raised $10,600, enough to pay for 70 nights of lodging at Ronald McDonald House. His first goal was $2,011, which he accomplished in one summer. The goal then became $3,009, which he reached in five months. Unlike the $5,013 for Gaudreau, the first two totals were random numbers, not tied to any player.

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As his goals grew, so did his operation. His sales territory expanded, and he added a local supermarket and car dealership as places to set up shop. His 4-year-old sister decided she wanted to help as well, so Farah Astalos now sells strawberries at her stand next to Haylen's.

His parents buy him whatever ice cream is on sale and he gets to pick the flavors. Cookies and cream is his favorite.

Haylen's philanthropy and love for the Flames sparked an idea from Katie Stajan, and with the help of Flames employees, Haylen got the surprise of his life.

Through direct messages on Twitter with Tabitha Astalos, Katie arranged to have the family come to a Flames practice. She told them he could sell the hot chocolate to fans on the concourse level and meet some of the players.

"That's what I told the family, but in reality I wanted to set up his stand in the Flames locker room and then have all the guys come in and give him $5 to help him reach his goal," Katie Stajan said.

Katie outfitted the family in Stajan jerseys when they arrived and told them to watch practice while she and members of the Flames staff set up Haylen's stand.

She told them what was really going on after practice.

"I said, 'Oh, by the way, I hope you don't mind. I just set it up in the locker room. I thought this might be better,'" she said. "And they were all shocked."

One by one, Flames players came off the ice to see Haylen waiting at his stand with hot chocolate for each of them. Flames front office staff members also came down. Haylen raised $450.

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"He's such a businessman," Tabitha Astalos said. "He was focused on serving them their hot chocolate and getting his job done, and once he got everybody their hot chocolate he was more open to talking."

Tweet from @HaylensShop: What 6 year old goes to a friends birthday party and hands out his business cards...This one :)#Alwaysnetworking ��

"He's a cute, good kid," Matt Stajan said. "He was easy to talk to and to get him to open up. I was there once when I was younger, and if I had the opportunity to meet someone, the [NHL players] in my hometown, I'd be on Cloud Nine. For sure you'd be shy, so you just want him to be comfortable."

Though the Flames were impressed with Haylen, Tabitha Astalos was as impressed with Matt Stajan.

"He just sat there and listened to Haylen go on and on with him," she said. "And I'm just thinking, like, this guy is so busy and yet he's sitting here and taking the time to talk to him, and that was amazing to see him do that. That was probably my favorite memory, just watching them talk ... about nothing, really."

Matt Stajan gave Haylen a tour of the locker room that included a little extra time with Gaudreau.

Tweet from @HaylensShop: This picture melts my heart <3Thank You @johngaudreau03 for taking the time to sit & chat with Haylen!@HaylensShop

"Hopefully we can get him out to a game again next season, see him in the locker room handing out more hot chocolate," Gaudreau said. "It's really cool to see him doing that."

In addition to the $450 from the Flames, Haylen won a $2,500 donation in a Local Heroes contest through the Northlands non-profit organization in June. Tabitha Astalos has set up pages on GoFundMe for people who want to donate to Haylen's cause but can't get to Blackfalds to buy ice cream. Haylen has found other ways to supplement his ice cream business as well, including collecting plastic bottles to deposit at the local recycling center.

Of course, Haylen has a new goal and a fundraising page through Ronald McDonald House Charities.

It's $7,018, with the 18 for Matt Stajan.

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