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52 for the Zoo

by Alex DiFilippo / Detroit Red Wings

ROYAL OAK, Mich. – As the Red Wings biggest defenseman at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Jonathan Ericsson has been known to throw his weight around while on the ice.

On Saturday, local children from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit reaped the benefits from those often crushing body checks.

For every hit Ericsson recorded during the 2014-15 season, the Red Wings blueliner donated $50 to fund overnight trips to the Detroit Zoo as part of his “52 for the Zoo” program. Now in its second year, Ericsson raised $5,700 for the program with 114 hits during the course of last season, finishing in the top five of the category amongst Red Wings for the fourth-straight year.

Ericsson, along with his wife, Evelina, and 22-month old daughter, Liv, joined 18 “Littles” and their “Bigs” for a private tour of the zoo on Saturday evening led by the Detroit Zoo Animals after Dark program. The night started with a pizza party and an autograph session with Ericsson before the group made its way onto the zoo grounds.

“Having a chance to meet Jonathan and get his autograph, then have a private tour of the zoo with him and his family, it’s been a very cool experience,” said Marco Bonnani, a “Big Brother” from Macomb, Mich. “It’s definitely something we might not have been able to do without the program and without the Red Wings help. This will definitely be one of the best events of the year.”

The private tour included stops at the wolf and tiger exhibits, with the Animals After Dark staff stories and information about the animals throughout the evening. The night concluded with marshmallow roasting, various animal-themed games and a movie shown in the Ford Education Center where the group also spent the night.

Tyler Garrett, 10, attended the “52 at the Zoo” event last year and didn’t want to miss an opportunity to return to the zoo for a second time.

“It has been fun seeing all the different animals,” Garrett said. “I didn’t know when it was going to be this year, but I had a lot of fun last year with the stories about the animals and the S’mores and I wanted to come back.”

The partnership with the zoo was an easy connection for Ericsson, as he’s always been interested in animals dating back to his childhood in Sweden.

“It was really nice to get out here and see all the kids enjoying themselves,” he said. “Spending the night at the Zoo will be a cool experience and something I would have been really interested in when I was a kid.”

As such, Ericsson has committed to continue the “52 for the Zoo” program for the upcoming season 2015-16 season and will look to rack up the hits once again to give local children a unique and memorable experience at the Detroit Zoo.

“I’m glad these kids had the chance to come to the zoo, see the animals and then spend the night,” Ericsson said. “It’s something I look forward to continuing in the future and working with the great people at the zoo.”

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