WHALERS ALUMNI GAME A SUCCESS BOTH ON AND OFF THE ICE
Players get to reconnect with each other and fans, while raising money for charity
The second annual Plymouth Whalers alumni game on August 7 at Compuware Arena was a success on many levels.
The event was staged for Autism Awareness and the Whalers teamed up with the Hope for Autism Foundation and Autism Compass. Not only was information available about autism, but parts of Compuware Arena were transformed into autism-friendly environments, including a sensory-friendly room available during the game, dedicated family-friendly restrooms, and gluten-free concessions options for purchase.
Although the White battled the Blues to a 14-14 draw, the action on the ice took a back seat to the smiles from fans and alumni throughout the afternoon.
An autograph session with the Whalers alumni set for 2:30pm lasted a little more than two hours as fans lined up around the seating area of Compuware Arena and out into the lobby. Although many fans wanted to see NHL players David Legwand (Nashville), James Wisniewski (New York Islanders), James Neal (Dallas), Jared Boll (Columbus), and Chad LaRose and Justin Peters (both Carolina), many others re-connected with former captains Randy Fitzgerald, Mike Morrone, AJ Jenks, Andrew Taylor, and Chris Terry and others.
Rob Mason is a producer for WWJ News Radio 950-AM who attended the game with his daughter, Alanna, a student at Schoolcraft College.
“This is a great event,” Mason said. “Not only is this an opportunity to meet and get autographs with NHL-star players – and certainly some of them here are rising stars – but for $10 you get an opportunity to see a game in a few moments that is going to charity. Not only that, you show your ticket stub and you’ll receive a free ticket for the Whalers home opener (September 25 against Barrie). This is a $10 bargain in a day when people are looking for bargains.”
Mason and his daughter spent ten solid minutes visiting with Boll before the game, who – like all of the Whalers alumni – were unfailingly polite with fans during the entire event.
“It was really nice,” Mason said. “My daughter is a huge fan of his and she was hoping for this opportunity. He’s a very nice young man.”
“This is good hockey and good entertainment,” said Ken Redpath, of Dearborn. “I came here today to see Mike Morrone. I started following the team at Joe Louis Arena and I’ve been coming ever since.”
Whether it was participating in the autograph session, playing the game, or visiting afterwards in CJ’s Brewing Company, all the players enjoyed themselves. At one table at CJ’s, NHL Whalers LaRose, Neal, Peters, and Boll traded stories with J.D. Eaton and Jeff Gardiner, both of whom played during the early days of the franchise. The age difference of the players didn’t matter; the laughter and camaraderie was genuine.
Goaltender Jason Saal – who backstopped the Whalers to an OHL championship in 1995 when they were known as the Detroit Jr. Red Wings – traveled from Augusta, GA to play in the game.
“I look forward to being back in the locker room,” Saal told the Augusta Examiner. “That’s what I miss the most about hockey. Just being in the locker room after the game, after and before practice. Hanging out with the guys, the camaraderie is the biggest thing.”
Saal now works as a policeman in the Augusta area.
Whalers alumni were interviewed after the game and shows how the players felt coming back to play for their former team and support a great cause.
Bottom line, the Whalers alumni game that was strictly an idea two short years ago is growing into an event.
The Whalers would like to thank the following alumni for their participation: Jeff Gardiner (1990-92), J.D. Eaton (1990-93), Kevin Paden (1992-94), Bill McCauley (1992-95), Jeff Mitchell (1992-95), Jason Saal (1992-95), Mike Rucinski (1992-96), Dan Pawlaczyk (1993-97), Scott Blair (1994-96), Mike Morrone (1994-97), Andrew Taylor (1994-98), Randy Fitzgerald (1996-00), David Legwand (1997-99), Rick Smith (1998-99), Damian Surma (1998-02), Chad LaRose (2000-03), James Wisniewski (2000-04), Ryan McGinnis (2003-07), James Neal (2003-07), Andrew Fournier (2003-08), Zack Shepley (2003-08), Tom Sestito (2004-07), Ryan Stephenson (2004-06), Steve Ward (2004-07), Jared Boll (2005-07), Chris Terry (2005-09), Justin Peters (2005-06), Joe McCann (2005-08), AJ Jenks (2006-10), Ryan Hayes (2007-10), and Scott Fletcher (2008-09).