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P.K. Subban will continue Montreal philanthropy

Nashville defenseman remains committed to children's hospital despite trade

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- The line started forming as soon as the show was over, and within minutes it was so long the people at the front could no longer see where it ended.

Hundreds of fans waited patiently for the star of that show, Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, to come out and sign the custom Just for Laughs jerseys they purchased that night.

The proceeds from the sale of those 500 custom jerseys, with a price of $199 each, were added to the $130,000 raised for the Montreal Children's Hospital by Subban's All-Star Comedy Gala in front of a sold out crowd at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier on Monday.

The fifth person in line was Jean Stephen, and as soon as she got to the front she locked Subban in a long embrace that seemed to last forever but was probably no longer than a minute. Subban had bodyguards on hand, but they weren't required because he hugged Stephen right back.

Tweet from @ArponBasu: This woman, Jean Stephen, was 5th in line and hugged Subban for about a minute when she got to front. He hugged back

When Stephen emerged from the throng surrounding Subban, having her new jersey and the Subban T-shirt she was wearing signed, she screamed in the middle of the packed foyer outside the main concert hall of the Place des Arts.

"Dreams do come true," she said, after composing herself. "I prayed to God for this day to come."

Though it might be an extreme example, Stephen's reaction to meeting Subban is a fair reflection of what he meant to Montreal. He is a larger than life figure, revered and adored not only because of his ability to play hockey, but perhaps more so for fundraising efforts like the one Monday.

One of the biggest questions when Subban was traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators on June 29 for defenseman Shea Weber was what would happen to his seven-year, $10 million fundraising commitment to the Children's Hospital.

Subban immediately put those questions to rest, reaffirming his commitment to the hospital as soon as the trade was made official. But the relationship between Subban and the hospital is bound to change now that he no longer works in town. According to Marie-Josée Gariépy, the president of the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, that change probably won't be as drastic as one might think.

"We are very lucky to be keeping P.K. Subban," Gariépy said following the show. "The Canadiens might have lost him, but the hospital gets to keep him."

Gariépy is the person Subban first approached about getting involved with the hospital last spring, and she was the one who drove Highway 401 from Montreal to Toronto twice last summer to make her pitch to Subban and his family on the impact he could have with his donation.

"Marie-Josée made the trip down the 401, sat down at our living room table and presented us with something that just blew us away, floored us," Subban said on stage Monday. "Really, when I thought about my legacy in hockey, however long or short it is, I wanted to do something special in my life that had nothing to really do with hockey. I want to thank Marie-Josée and the hospital for giving me the opportunity to do something like that."

Since announcing his fundraising commitment in September, Gariépy said Subban has raised nearly $1.2 million of his $10 million commitment, including the proceeds from the show Monday. That puts Subban on pace to raise about $8.4 million over seven years, but Gariépy points out the partnership is only in its first year and there is a lot of time to build momentum.

Subban playing for the Predators instead of the Canadiens should have a minimal impact on their ability to do that, she said.

Subban did one fundraising event last season, a jersey signing tied to the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, an event he won't be involved in every year. By and large, it was always expected the bulk of Subban's fundraising work would be done in the offseason, Gariépy said, and in that sense playing in Nashville should not impact that side of it.

It will, however, impact the patients at the hospital who became accustomed to regular visits from Subban during the season; he went so often he was issued a doctor's parking pass to make it easier for him to visit.

"Except for the fact he won't be physically present as often as he used to be, I don't see a significant difference from before [the trade]," Gariépy said. "But that being said, we will need to be creative."

One way to do that is through the use of social media. Gariépy anticipates the hospital's partnership with Subban and his legions of followers on Twitter and Instagram will only grow now that he is in Nashville.

But before he leaves for Tennessee, Subban will hold another fundraising event in Montreal on Aug. 31. The day will begin with a press conference giving a detailed account of how the money Subban has raised has been spent, and it will end with a fundraising dinner at the St-James Theatre in Old Montreal.

Tweet from @PKSubban1: I wanted my friends @HopitalChildren to know that I will never stop fundraising for them. So I wrote a letter...

There will be approximately 350 people at the fundraiser, and tickets are on sale, but Gariépy said they aren't doing much promotion for it because "the tickets are basically selling themselves." Details on what exactly the evening will entail are being finalized, but the general theme has been established.

"It's essentially a farewell party for P.K.," Gariépy said.

Although that may be true for Canadiens fans in Montreal, it is not true for the Montreal Children's Hospital and the kids who depend on the care they receive there.

They won't be saying farewell to Subban or his fundraising efforts anytime soon.

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