Since arriving in Denver in 1995, the Colorado Avalanche Charity Fund has made donations in excess of $11.5 million to local charities throughout Colorado. Certainly a big part of the Avalanche's commitment to the Rocky Mountain Region comes in the form of its major fund-raising events, like the Avalanche Charity Golf Classic, Avs Better Halves Charity Brunch and Fashion Show and the Mile High Dreams Gala.
But the organization's commitment can be felt each and every game day for local youth hockey players. Under the direction of Matt DeLuzio, the Avalanche Fan Development Department hosts numerous activities prior to, during, and after every Avalanche game.
Their work starts early in the morning, as DeLuzio and his co-workers in community relations organize the Av For A Day program. Av For A Day provides an opportunity for a deserving child to spend the day as a special guest of the Colorado Avalanche. The program most commonly is used for children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation or patients from The Children's Hospital.
The guest is met around 9 a.m. and escorted to a nice spot to watch the Avalanche's morning skate at 10:30 a.m. Following the skate, the Av For A Day child gets to meet players and coaches as they finish their workouts.
Once that has concluded, DeLuzio begins preparations for one of the team's newest programs, Full Strength.
Full Strength was developed by the club to provide youth hockey teams with a fund-raising opportunity through the sale of the Avalanche Game Magazine. In the program's first season, over $50,000 was raised for local youth hockey teams.
The magazines arrive in numerous boxes at the Pepsi Center loading dock and then are distributed to different areas throughout the building. The youth hockey teams arrive roughly two hours before the game, get their boxes of magazines and change bags and head out to the concourse. The programs are just $2, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the youth team. The kids, who are accompanied by a coach or parent, sell from the time doors open until the start of the second period. At that point, the entire team is invited to watch the rest of the game.
"(This program) really brings everyone in the hockey community together," said Steve Randell, coach of the Arapahoe Warriors' Squirt B Team. "Being a part of this fund raiser was a tremendous success for our team."
While Full Strength is in full gear, DeLuzio is busy prepping the Avalanche Youth Skater for his or her big night. This lucky youngster, who is nominated by hockey association coaches and hockey directors, dresses in full Avalanche gear and gets to follow the Avalanche players as they head out onto the ice for the start of each home game. He or she also gets introduced prior to the National Anthem.
As one youth hockey team is selling programs, another is arriving at Pepsi Center. The Colorado Avalanche Mini Mites program provides a unique opportunity for mite-aged hockey players to play a short game and participate in a shootout during intermissions. That team arrives about an hour before the game starts, and the entire squad participates in a scrimmage in the first intermission. From there, eight kids are chosen for a shootout during the second intermission.
Once the third period rolls around and the program sales are over and the intermission scrimmages are done, the Fan Development Department's night starts to wind down. But it's not completely over, because there still is a post-game adult skate to come. Although the skate is organized through the ticketing department, the adult skaters typically come from groups set up through DeLuzio's contacts in local adult hockey leagues. So it's a quick visit to say hello after the game and to ensure they are being taken care of before heading off for the night.
"There is a lot going on each night, that's for sure," said DeLuzio. "But the kids are great, they work hard to sell the programs and they have a great time out on the ice. What more can you ask for?"
Brendan McNicholas is the Director of Media Services/Internet for the Colorado Avalanche.