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McCann hosts virtual happy hour to fight MS

Jared joined with his mother Erin, who has been living with multiple sclerosis for 40 years

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Jared McCann's mother Erin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was just 18 years old and has battled it ever since.

Raising awareness and funds is something that is important to both of them, with Jared getting involved with the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter of the National MS Society this past season after Kelly Tapper reached out to the 24-year-old Penguins forward over social media.

"We kept that relationship open, so with COVID-19, the National MS Society has had to cancel a lot of their major fundraising events - all of our walks, bike events," said Tapper, who is the Development Specialist for Walk MS and also has MS herself. "So, I wanted to think of something new that we could do to raise some money."

Tapper came up with the idea of doing a virtual happy hour, and ran it by McCann, who immediately said yes and said Erin would join as well.  

From there, Tapper set up an online auction, where people could bid to win a "seat" for the event. They ended up raising around $1,000, and all of the proceeds will benefit Walk MS and the National MS Society.  

"Even though it's a difficult time for everybody, for those living with MS, there's a lot of people that need extra help right now," Tapper said. "So, our fundraising is more important than ever. That's why it's been important for us to find new and innovative ways to raise those funds. We're so thankful that Jared's been so open to starting a relationship with the society here and working with us."

The virtual happy hour took place Wednesday evening on Zoom, and lasted for about an hour. The McCanns joined from the kitchen of the family home in Stratford, Ontario. And while Jared's beverage of choice is Caesars (the Canadian version of a Bloody Mary), he stuck with water.

The event began with Erin sharing her story about her battle with MS, which is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. Its cause is still unknown and its severity varies individually, with nearly one million people affected in the United States and 77,000 in Canada. 

"I've had MS for quite a few years, but I'm very fortunate," Erin said. "I just use a cane now. Up until about I'd say maybe 8-10 years ago, you probably wouldn't even have known that I had it that bad. It's just started to get worse now. It's been a journey. Keeping positive, always trying to do something you can't. I've been pretty much keeping healthy. I'm not on any medication at all. I try to deal with my pain through over-the-counter drugs." 

FOR THE FULL STORY ON ERIN'S BATTLE WITH MS, VISIT THIS LINK.

"Personally, I didn't really know what the disease was when I was younger," Jared said. "Obviously, growing up you wonder why your mom can't move as well as other people, but I learned quite a bit from her. Obviously, her being so strong and stuff like that, I feel like it definitely rubs off on you. When it comes to counting your blessings and just being thankful for everything you have, it's obviously very important." 

"Sometimes he'll say to me, 'No Mom, don't do that. We'll do it for you,'" Erin interjected with a laugh. "And I go, 'No, you won't. I'll tell you when I can't do it.'" 

"Then we'll get a cane in the back of the head or something like that," Jared grinned. 

All jokes aside, Erin said working hard at staying positive is the example she hopes that people can take inspiration from no matter what they're going through.

"I think that's a great asset to have, is to be positive. On anything, right?" she said. "Just anything that happens. When you wake up in the morning think 'Okay, what am I going to see the good about today?' Because everybody struggles in their own ways." 

From there, Tapper invited the participants to ask Jared and Erin anything they wanted. 

"The first one is probably when hockey is going to come back," Erin joked.

"We'll get that one over with first," Jared responded with a laugh. "I have no idea. Hopefully, we work something out here soon."

For the remainder of the event, Jared was asked a bunch of different questions on a number of different topics. He was open, candid and funny with his answers, turning to Erin for help a lot of the time. 

Hockey-related questions included how he first got started playing, the shock of going from Florida to Pittsburgh, his pregame ritual, current workout regimen and if he ever got pranked as a rookie. Of course, some teammate questions were worked in, like who is the funniest (Brandon Tanev and Brian Dumoulin) and who he's closest with (Matt Murray). 

Non-hockey related questions included streaming recommendations (Erin: The Voice, Ozark, Bloodline; Jared: The Last Dance), what he would do if he wasn't a hockey player (history teacher), his favorite spots in Pittsburgh (Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, Burgatory), and what he misses the most about Pittsburgh (the fans).

They also returned to the topic of MS a few times. Erin told the group about her motorized trike, which she loves.

"We have some hills around here, and I loved going outside and I love to bike and stuff, but I couldn't do it anymore," Erin said. "I didn't have the balance. So, I have my trike, and with weather like this, it's great to get outside."

Erin also just started driving with hand controls, which allows her to operate both the brake and gas pedal using levers that are typically mounted below the steering wheel and attach to the pedals themselves.

"It's going very well," she said. "It took me I would say probably about two months to get it because I was so nervous. I had never done something like that before. But now I love it. It's my right side that's bad, so my other side, I can still use it more. So now I'm doing that. There are all kinds of things you can do, right? If you really want to."

Erin joked that her husband is glad she made the switch, because "I had a very heavy foot."

"Yeah, very heavy," Jared agreed with a laugh. "Mario Andretti, that's what we used to call her. We'd make it to games so quickly, it'd be great." 

Jared was asked if he ever got the chance to interact with Bryan Bickell, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks who retired after being diagnosed with MS in 2016.

"My first year in the NHL is when he retired with MS," Jared said. "So, I was still a rookie and I hadn't really been able to reach out or anything like that. But hopefully one day I'll be able to, because I've always wanted to start something like this. Kelly's done such a great job of giving me the opportunity to reach out to a lot of people. 

"I finally have the platform and the nerve, I guess, too. Because I was so young and didn't really know how to handle a situation like this. Hopefully, we can keep this going. I would love to. I know my mom really likes hearing everybody's stories and stuff like that, too. So, it's great."

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