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Wild About Children Brings Players Closer To Fans

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

As Mikko Koivu stood in the back of the room, in the threshold of where Wild hockey players turned into charity event wait staff, a young boy approached him. 

It wasn’t a rare sight for the Monday night Wild About Children event on Monday night. Koivu and every other player in attendance were frequently asked for autographs, photographs, or refills on a glass of wine.

But this request was different. The young boy had just begun playing center on his youth hockey team, and wanted to pick the brain of the Wild's captain.

It was all part of a night with a theme of giving back, as 23 Wild players traded their sticks and skates for aprons and trays to help put on the annual charity event. 

"It's not hockey-related in any way," Jason Zucker said. "They're all fans of hockey, and fans of us, but this night isn't about that. It's about meeting these fans, and supporting a great cause."

The latest Wild About Children event benefited the Cancer Kids Fund at Children's Hospital, which funds and provides much needed resources to families with a child battling cancer.

Its guest of honor was 10-year-old Max Ashbot, who is being treated for Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"Being able to meet Max and his family was outstanding; they're really a great family," Zucker said. "It's a lot of fun to be here."

The event began with a cocktail hour, where players paired with a professional server and carried trays around with a variety of hors d'oeuvres, schmoozing with fans and their families in a much more intimate setting than most are used to with their favorite hockey players.

"I trust my ability on the ice a little bit more than the waiting ability, but we'll see how it goes," Jason Pominville said. "We'll have fun with it for sure."

During that time, attendees could also participate in a silent auction, or take a second to meet their favorite Wild player.

"It gives me goose bumps, because the opportunity to be this close to the players, and to do something to help people, it's fantastic," Mark Meier, one of the event's attendees, said.

It was the 11th year the Wild has hosted the event, which has raised a combined $1 million dollars over its history. Though the exact number has not been calculated, early returns were good, including a trip with the Wild to Nashville going for $24,000 during live auction portion.

"It's very, very special to me because I needed to use a children's hospital for one of my children, and now to be able to give back in different ways, through this event and other events, it's wonderful," Lucy Olsen, another attendee, said.

Olsen had another reason for being there. She was carrying around a lavender placard from the Wild's Hockey Fights Cancer Night. She said one of her friends has breast cancer, and Olsen was going to try to get every Wild player to autograph the placard before presenting it to her friend.

"This will mean the world for her," Olsen said.

The night was filled with stories just like that, with many attendees having some kind of personal connection to share. 

When it came time for the dinner portion, the players helped deliver food to their assigned tables, or refill drink glasses, or take more photos.

Ashton was honored in front of the sold-out room of 404, who watched a video telling a bit of his story, before Ashton was brought onto the stage, met by a standing applause.

It featured a segment where Ashton could be seen matching the names and numbers of Wild players while he was getting sedated before his treatment. Hockey, and Wild hockey, the video said, is what drives Ashton.

"It makes you think back to when you were a kid, how much it meant," Koivu said.

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