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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres today announced they will again partner with Hasek’s Heroes and the National Hockey League to host the 2012 Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend Feb. 17-20 in Buffalo.

The event, which is being held in Buffalo for the fourth time, will bring together more than 50 boys and girls from youth hockey organizations throughout North America, including Buffalo, Columbus, Philadelphia, New York, San Jose, Boston, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. All of the participants will be representing a youth hockey affiliate of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative.

“It will be exciting to have the opportunity to go through the drills with the kids,” said Sabres Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson. “Having so many hockey legends in one place is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these young players. They’ll get a chance to improve their game on the ice and learn important life lessons at the same time.”

Participants will enhance their skills through USA Hockey and NCAA Division I presentations during the on-ice drills and a skills competition. They will participate in an on-ice clinic conducted by NHL alumni, including Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL and who now serves as the ambassador for Hockey is for Everyone. The weekend is a cultural opportunity to meet NHL alumni, create new friendships and enjoy the attractions of Buffalo.

 Congressional Hockey Caucus co-chair Rep. Brian Higgins, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and John Marshall, son of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, also will address participating youngsters.

Participating youths will visit Kids Escaping Drugs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of prevention programs for adolescents and their families suffering from alcohol and drug dependency. Speaking panels featuring adolescent and young adults in recovery will discuss the consequences of their use.

The Sabres donated 100 tickets for the participating youths to attend the team’s game against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, Feb. 17. O’Ree will drop a ceremonial puck prior to the game and participants will meet with Sabres players after the game.

The weekend will culminate with a unique opportunity to play hockey on the ice at First Niagara Center on Monday, Feb. 20 from 4-6 p.m.

O'Ree will be joined by Buffalo Sabres alumni, NHL coaching legend Scotty Bowman and Buffalo Sabres Chief Development Officer Cliff Benson to participate in the activities.

Dave Smith, NHL Director of Fitness and Medical, will conduct the showcase drills along with Canisius College head coach David Smith, NHL alumni and Division I players. Buffalo native Kenneth Martin, Jr., who is Vice President of Community Affairs for the NHL and spearheads its Hockey is for Everyone initiative, also will attend the festivities.

Founded by legendary Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek, Hasek's Heroes provides a foundation of athletic development and educational support, enabling children from low- to moderate-income families to achieve their life goals.  It provides them the opportunity to learn basic skating and hockey skills and, for those with the aptitude and commitment, the opportunity to participate in the tiered hockey development program. Hasek's Heroes works in partnership with the Buffalo Public School System to promote academic achievement as an integral component of athletics. 

The Buffalo Sabres Foundation recognizes the importance of Hasek’s Heroes and recently donated $100,000 to continue the organization’s work with inner-city hockey in Buffalo.

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