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Canadiens' Subban pledges $10 million to hospital

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- As P.K. Subban walked into the atrium of Montreal Children's Hospital for what would be the most important announcement of his life Wednesday, he looked up in the giant room he was entering and it hit him.

Up on the wall, in giant letters, were the words "Atrium P.K. Subban," a recognition of the $10 million donation Subban and his foundation were making to the hospital, but also a culmination of a life's work, in a sense.

Those words are visible from three floors of the new hospital, floors that were packed with staff gathered to watch Subban speak Wednesday, as well as from the sun-drenched room that welcomes patients and staff when they use the back entrance to the building.

The words are front and center, much like Subban often appears to be when he is playing defense for the Montreal Canadiens, and just like he was Wednesday in making the announcement of a donation the hospital called "the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history."

"It is really an amazing feeling being here," Subban told the crowd, breaking from his scripted speech. "As I was walking out of the back room, I noticed the 'Atrium P.K. Subban' lettering back there and I got goosebumps. It's not many times I get goosebumps in what I do, playing hockey for a very, very long time in front of a lot of people. That's probably the only time I've gotten goosebumps in a long time. It's pretty special to see that."

The $10 million donation will be made during the next seven years, and part of it will be used to create a fund called "P.K.'s Helping Hands," which will provide financial assistance to families of sick children so they can concentrate on caring for them instead of worrying about how they will provide for their family while their child is in the hospital.

"I think everybody deserves the opportunity to do that," he said.

Subban said there were several factors that led him to make such a significant donation.

The first was the experiences he's had with people overcoming hardship. Like the time in his rookie season when he visited Children's Hospital on Christmas morning to hand out presents to patients without anyone knowing about it. Or the time he visited Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that left the country in ruins. Or when he met an 11-year-old cancer patient a few years ago who ultimately succumbed to the disease.

"Some of the things that I've seen in my short lifetime of 26 years old, it's helped mold me into coming out here today and making this commitment," Subban said.

Then there was his sense of civic duty to his adopted home of Montreal, a city that has embraced him as one of its favorite sons. Subban signed an eight-year contract worth a reported $72 million with the Canadiens on Aug. 2, 2014, and he said this was one way he thought he could repay the trust the organization, and by extension the city, placed in him that day.

Subban was asked why he decided to give so much money to the hospital; he answered with another question.

"Why not?" he said. "You know what? For me, it's taking the step forward, it's taking the initiative to lead by example. It's not about the money; it's about leading by example and bringing a community together. In Montreal, this is my city just as much as it's yours. It's my job as well to make a commitment to this city that everyone can understand. If because I play for the Montreal Canadiens and people know me because of that and I can use that to raise money for the hospital, that's my responsibility. I feel that."

The third reason was to follow in the footsteps of someone who had a great impact on Subban's life, the late Canadiens great Jean Beliveau.

Subban was 11 when he first met Beliveau. Subban's minor-hockey coach, Martin Ross, who was in attendance at the announcement Wednesday, brought Beliveau into the locker room prior to one of Subban's games. Subban said his father, Karl, a die-hard Canadiens fan, cried that day upon meeting Beliveau, and it was the first time in his life he'd seen that happen.

Beliveau's widow, Elise, was sitting next to Karl Subban at the announcement Wednesday, and Subban took time in his speech to address her. In French, no less.

"Je suis fier de marcher dans les pas de mon idole, Jean Béliveau, en redonnant à la collectivité par mon implication et mon soutien. Mme Béliveau, j’espère faire honneur à votre mari."

Translated, Subban said: "I am proud to follow in the footsteps of my idol, Jean Beliveau, by giving back to the community through my involvement and my support. Mrs. Beliveau, I hope to make your husband proud."

It was not the only time in his speech that Subban spoke French, showing his improved command of the language since deciding to up his tutoring to twice a week recently. If that wasn't enough proof as to the extent to which Subban wanted to embrace his new home, he provided more Wednesday.

Subban mentioned last week at the Canadiens' annual charity golf tournament he would be embarrassed if he lived in Montreal for 10 years and didn't learn to speak at least a bit of French. He has no reason to be embarrassed about anything he does in Montreal anymore.

The final reason Subban mentioned for making this donation was to establish a legacy for his time in Montreal and, more generally, on Earth. With the bulk of his hockey career still ahead of him, he spoke eloquently of how he wanted to detach that from the legacy he still is shaping on the ice with the Canadiens.

"In life I believe you are not defined by what you accomplish, but by what you do for others," Subban said. "Sometimes I try to think, 'P.K., are you a hockey player or are you just someone who plays hockey?' I just play hockey. Because one day I won't be a hockey player anymore. I'll just be someone who played hockey. So what do I want people to remember me for other than being a hockey player?

"Well, every time you walk into this hospital, you'll know what I stand for."

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