At just four years old, Nolan Rock is a little shy when it comes to meeting people. He gave a quick wave and a big smile, but bashfully turned his head to look over his dad’s shoulder.
As the guest of honor at this season’s Wild About Children fundraiser, Nolan had a lot of people to meet, including the entire Wild roster.
“Nolan’s not quite sure what he’s getting himself into,” his mom, Rhea Nelson-Rock said.
“He’s figuring it out, he likes to be the center of attention,” his dad, Dave Rock added.
Dressed in a little black and gray argyle sweater while sporting some sneakers with neon soles that only a four-year-old can pull off at a such an event, Nolan and his older sister Addy met everyone and shared high-fives and giggles with even the toughest of Wild skaters.
“They were actually probably the first people I ran into,” Wild forward Jason Pominville said. “It was nice to be able to see the families. It’s nice to see everyone and to see the kids. That’s obviously who this goes to.”
Wild About Children, which has raised over $900,000 over its history, benefits Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the Wild Foundation. The annual event helps raise awareness for children battling tough health issues, — in Nolan’s case, epilepsy.
The Lake Elmo native was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2010 when he was just five months old. He frequently visits Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota for treatment as he continues to battle his condition and the symptoms that come with it. But Monday night, Nolan was a star and continually sported a smile.
The Rock family attended last year’s Wild About Children event, but this year they were the featured guests. Coincidentally, the event took place just weeks after Children’s Hospital opened its new neuroscience unit, where Wild captain Mikko Koivu donated two rooms.
“I’ve been really excited over the last couple of years that the neuro unit and the epilepsy unit have been the focus for the event.” Nelson-Rock said. “I think that’s great. Having Mikko as personally supporting the unit is fantastic. It really helps bring a lot of attention to a disorder that doesn’t get a lot of attention.”
While the Rock family enjoyed the evening for their second time, a few players shed their rookie status Monday night as the team hung up its hockey skates to don aprons as celebrity waiters.
Beyond serving dinner, the players split duties between serving hors d’oeuvres and wine, minding the coat check, manning a martini luge and mingling with the guests.
Matt Cooke, who worked the event for the first time, said he made people trade eating hors d’oeuvres to get autographs, and eventually emptied four trays.
“In Pittsburgh we did a similar event where we’re servers as well,” Cooke said. “It’s a fun event. It puts us in a different light and exposes us to the fans in a different element, outside of something we’re comfortable in. You’re getting to see the true us. I think that’s a fun thing for not only us as players, but also as fans to get see that. Any time you can get together and do something for such a great cause, it makes it that much better.”
Many of the players shared Cooke’s sentiment, also noting how nice it is to meet fans in a different setting and just be themselves. Though for some, the night’s responsibilities presented new challenges, particularly for Nino Niederreiter who worked the coat check.
“I was more nervous to work the coat check than to play hockey,” Niederreiter said. “It actually was really challenging. It was way harder than I expected it to be.”
Pominville shared similar hesitations about serving.
“We never did something like this,” He said referring to his time as a Buffalo Sabre. “We did ‘Aces and Blades’ so the players were dealers and it was a casino night. It was a little different. You didn’t have to wait or do anything like that, so this will be interesting. Thank god I have (Nate) Prosser with me to help me out and get through it.”
As the team mingled with the guests throughout the evening, every facet of the event worked towards raising money; between a silent auction, a live auction, other sales, and any tips the servers received throughout the night. With large items to bid on in the live auction, even the players helped get the guests into it, as Cooke at one point rubbed a bidder’s shoulders in an effort to keep a bidding war going.
Overall, a clearly relaxed team got to step away from the rink for a night and work towards benefitting a great cause.
“It comes at a good time,” Cooke said. “We’ve been hitting the ice a lot and playing a lot of games. Right now, this is something that keeps us involved and gets us together, but away from the rink. Those are always good times. And for a great cause, you really just pour your heart out for charity.”