Pictured above: Greg Malone (center) with his sons Ryan (left) and Mark (right). Credit: Blake Toki Photography

When Max Talbot got a call from his former Penguins teammate Ryan Malone about coming to Pittsburgh and supporting the Black & Gold Breaking the Mold initiative of the Malone Family Foundation, he responded in the affirmative without hesitation.

“I'm like, yeah! When's the flight?!” said Talbot, a 2009 Stanley Cup Champion with Pittsburgh and a fan favorite. “Because hockey is healing, and I think that Ryan has realized the hockey world is a big community, so, we need to support each other in doing good stuff.

“What Bugsy’s doing for the community, for (the Pittsburgh Warriors), and raising money like that – I mean, it's making a difference. So, to come and help and try to help do some good for his charity and for everything he does, it's a privilege for me, really.”

Talbot joined other NHL players like Penguins forward Lars Eller and the recently retired Jeff Carter; members of veteran and first responder communities, including six of their local hockey organizations; local celebrities; and mental health advocates for a Mental Health Reception and Panel on Wednesday at City Winery and the second annual Hero & Celebrity Hockey Game on Thursday at RMU Island Sports Center.

The main goal of these events was to highlight hockey's healing power and the need to take positive action daily on our mental health journeys.

“Growing up here and just in the hockey community in general, you understand how special and unique of a place it is and the power behind it,” Ryan Malone said. “Everyone wants to help out and get involved. It’s a we effort, and so honestly, it’s just been amazing.

“Last year was just kind of the Warriors program we highlighted, now we have the six local teams that play. As we say, we're all kind of pulling on the same rope. So, it’s great now – we all have a chance to come together and continue to help each other in their programs, and it just trickles down.”

Ryan’s family has deep roots in the area, as his father Greg was drafted by the Penguins in 1976. After retiring from a career that included nearly 500 games with Pittsburgh, he won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins as the organization’s head scout in 1991 and 1992.

Ryan was raised in western Pennsylvania and became the first Pittsburgh-born player to don the black and gold after being drafted by the Penguins in 1999. The forward played nearly 300 of his 647 NHL games here, helping the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final in his last season with the franchise before spending time with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers and retiring in 2015.

“Now, just in that time in my life where you’re trying to use your platform to give back and help out the hockey community,” Ryan said. “It’s been a huge part of our family's lives forever. We have that opportunity now to use that, and especially help our veterans and first responders that are kind of first mission. So, it's been awesome.”

There are three main pillars of the Malone Family Foundation: access to the game; wellness; and, as Ryan mentioned, supporting veterans, first responders, their families, and those who are currently serving by working closely with organizations that help promote the wellness and funding of military family-focused initiatives. The goal is to use hockey as a way to help heal and support the well-being and growth within those communities.

Ryan has an uncle in the Navy, a cousin in the Marines, and his 91-year-old grandfather, Alex Vasselo—who dropped the ceremonial first puck—served as a staff sergeant in the 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

“I could always kind of see that big picture and understand I could play a game for a living, right? Made enough money to take care of my family, obviously very fortunate. It's not without their sacrifice at the end of the day,” Ryan said. “So, to me, it was kind of a no-brainer to start down that road, especially now.”

The players participating in yesterday’s game wore #22 on their jersey sleeves to help raise awareness for the 22 veterans who die by suicide every day in the U.S.

“Unfortunately, when you hear the number of suicides, 22-44 a day for the veteran community… I’m getting goosebumps,” Ryan said. “It’s heartbreaking. You hear the stories and unfortunately, we had a few suicides recently in the NHL alumni community as well. Konstantin Koltsov, he was my age, he played here. Chris Simon as well. It's just that brotherhood where you want to give people hope.”

The Malone Family Foundation will continue that through this initiative and others, including the Warrior Wellness Camp. It provides an opportunity for participants to enhance their hockey skills and overall well-being with on-ice sessions and off-ice sessions designed to educate participants on implementing mind, body, and soul practices into their everyday routines.

“Last year, we had 50 veterans there come for free for the day,” Ryan said. “We just tried to empower them with some different tools and inspire them, whatever they want to learn about nutrition… We try to treat it like a pro hockey camp, where they're talking about sleep and what you're eating and everything. Try to treat them like those pro camps we have. It went off really well. So now, this year, end of June, we're expecting to have 100 to 120 slots.”

Click here for more information on how to assist the Malone Family Foundation.