There is nothing new or unique about members of the hockey community rallying to help one of their own in a time of need. But when the officers and governors of the American Hockey Coaches
Association formed Hockey Coaches Care in the fall of 2002, they wanted to make it easier for hockey people to help some of their own.
“Around that time, the membership expressed a desire to see the AHCA become more active in this area,” recalls long-time AHCA Treasurer Bruce Delventhal, who also serves as the director of athletics at SUNY Plattsburgh. “And when we received early support from the Shawn Walsh Foundation, we were able to effectively get Hockey Coaches Care off and running.”
The Shawn Walsh Foundation was created to assist the legendary University of Maine coach during his courageous 17-month battle with cancer. After Walsh succumbed to the illness in September of 2001, the AHCA entered into discussions with trustees for the Walsh Foundation. The result was a transfer of remaining funds ($18,505) from the SWF to the fledgling AHCA charity, with Walsh’s brother, Kevin, being named to the inaugural Hockey Coaches Care board of directors.
In the decade since its formation, Hockey Coaches Care has gone on to raise more than $154,000 from individual AHCA members and a number of institutions. Most gifts are modest donations – $100 or less – but a number of hockey programs, through “50-50” raffles and auctions of signed game jerseys, have made more sizeable donations. Some schools have even taken to giving on an annual basis.
“Any gift, no matter what size, is appreciated and important to us,” says Jim Tortorella, men’s associate head coach at the University of New Hampshire.
Tortorella, who has administered Hockey Coaches Care since 2005, notes how valuable the institutional gifts have become.
“Certain programs have been consistently generous by holding raffles and other events on game nights to help fund this charity,” he says. “Colgate University and the University of Nebraska-Omaha are two schools that come to mind. This has been a great asset to our ability to approve grants.”
And that is what this is all about. The HCC board represents a wide range of constituencies within the hockey community, including the likes of retired college coaches (Jeff Sauer and Ron Mason) to NHL stalwarts (Brian Burke and Larry Pleau) to representatives of media (Gary Thorne), sales (Dave Smallwood) and medicine (Dr. Alan Ashare), to name just a few.
The board meets via conference call twice a year to consider requests for grants.
Currently, the board limits the total number of annual grants to $15,000, with no single grant larger than $5,000. Since its founding, Hockey Coaches Care has awarded more than $67,000 in grants. Not surprisingly, members of the board have turned out to be some of the most generous HCC benefactors.
“It is not unusual for us to be on a call and while deliberating one or more grant applications, to have a member of the board volunteer a generous gift to allow us to better help everyone under consideration,” says Delventhal.
For example, in the fall of 2011, former Bowdoin College All-American defenseman Kristen Cameron was hit by a car driven by a drunk driver while she was riding her bike. At the time, Cameron was serving as an assistant coach at Mercyhurst College. The $5,000 HCC grant awarded that fall allowed Cameron, who suffered some lower body paralysis, to purchase a specialized wheelchair designed to assist her rehabilitation.
At this year’s AHCA Convention in Naples, Fla., a $5,000 check was accepted by USA Hockey’s Scott Paluch on behalf of George Roll, head coach at Nazareth College, whose wife Paula has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
In fact, the AHCA Convention has become a major source of donations as Hockey Coaches Care is highlighted at a special reception each April.
“The membership has been generous in our first decade, but I know we can do so much more,” says Tortorella.
“We simply need to get the word out about the good we are doing with our annual grants. We all realize it could be any of us filling out that application for assistance some day.”
Joe Bertagna serves college hockey as the Executive Director of the American Hockey Coaches
Association and as the Commissioner of Hockey East.
Joe Bertagna serves college hockey as the Executive Director of the American Hockey Coaches Association and as the Commissioner of Hockey East.