EDINA, Minn. -- Nick Bjugstad is used to scoring and setting up goals. He's done it 205 times (96 goals, 109 assists) in seven NHL seasons.
But none of those compared to helping his 8-year-old cousin Benny Ackerman score Monday during the Unified Showcase between playoff games of Da Beauty League, a 3-on-3 summer league for NHL players with ties to Minnesota.
"They kind of just threw me the puck, and I kept kicking it and I didn't expect it, and I don't think Benny did either, and he scored and was so excited," the 27-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins center said. "The whole deal was just awesome.
"A lot of these kids, they've got the brightest smiles and they're so fun to be around. To have the opportunity for them to play hockey, it's so cool to see."
Bjugstad had played some pond hockey with Ackerman, but this was their first Unified Showcase together. He was one of 13 NHL players to take the ice with 12 Minnesota Special Hockey athletes with intellectual and social disabilities.
Founded in the spring of 2006, Minnesota Special Hockey has more than 230 players in 15 cities across the state. The season opens the first week of November and runs until the first week of March, with tournaments and festivals held in addition to hourlong games and practices.
David Jacobson didn't start playing hockey until three years ago. A big Minnesota Wild fan, particularly of forward Jason Zucker and defenseman Ryan Suter, the 45-yer-old couldn't wait to participate in his first Unified Showcase with NHL players.
"I think the game of hockey is fantastic, it's a fantastic sport, and the best thing I like about it is the camaraderie and friendships," said Jacobson, a defenseman. "The best friends in the world are hockey players. I just think it's a fantastic sport and I'm really honored and excited to be out there."
As memorable as the night was Minnesota Special Hockey, it meant even more to the NHL players.
"It's just fun for everybody," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "It was neat. Everyone had a good time doing it. I'm sure for them, it's got to be neat to get on the ice with the NHL guys, and the guys out there had a lot of fun. That's what it's all about."
Joining Bjugstad and Parise for the Unified Showcase were Alex Goligoski (Arizona Coyotes), Jake Guentzel (Penguins), Erik Haula (Carolina Hurricanes), Nick Leddy (New York Islanders), Anders Lee (Islanders), Ryan McDonagh (Tampa Bay Lightning), Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres), Brock Nelson (Islanders), Nate Prosser (Philadelphia Flyers), Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) and Alex Stalock (Wild).
Photos courtesy of TeMo Photo