BY DENNIS D. CRUZ
As the holidays rapidly approach, we are all reminded that this is the time for giving. Normally hockey is associated with finesse, skills and toughness on the ice. However, members of the new American Hockey League team Stockton Heat are showing kindness and big hearts off the ice.
The organization, formally the Stockton Thunder, is spending the holiday season reaching out to the local community through charity events. During the team’s home games on Nov. 27 and Dec. 5, the team hosted an Angel Tree event with the help of The Salvation Army. The program began in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1979 to help bring joy to those less fortunate during the holidays. Another event that the Heat sponsoring is the Hockey Players 4 Kids Give Moore for the Holidays. Founded by former Worcester Sharks AHL team member Mike Moore in 2008, the charitable act was created when Moore and his teammates went out and purchased gifts for underprivileged children in the community. The Heat players will be hitting the shopping malls and other retailers in the area in search of that special child in need this holiday season. Not only do they take time to shop for the present, they also wrap it and present it to the recipient personally. Following a team practice, selected kids are invited to the arena and are presented with the gifts.
“This was a tradition with the Stockton Thunder that we decided needed to continue with the Heat. Local youth from one TLC (transitional school for homeless children) submit Christmas wish lists to our team, and each player gets assigned a student to purchase a gift for. It is a great way for our players to connect with the youth in our community and it’s touching to see them take time out of their hectic schedules for this event,” said manager of community relations for the Heat, Katie Billiet. This event will take place on Dec. 15.
Another popular holiday tradition in Stockton is the annual Teddy Bear Toss that will take place on Jan. 23 during their home game against the Manitoba Moose. The Teddy Bear Toss has been a fan favorite over the past few seasons under the Thunder and like the Give Moore tradition, the Heat brought it back. Fans are invited to bring a stuffed animal to the Heat game. After the Heat score their first goal of the game, everyone is to toss their animal onto the ice to be collected and distributed to local charities. Local firefighters representing the Michael Chad Harris Foundation help clear the ice and collect the fuzzy friends.
“It’s quite the spectacle,” said Billiet. “Last season we collected 5,671 stuffed animals.”
The United Way of San Joaquin County and Heat players interact with children from local shelters who are brought in to pick out a stuffed animal of their choice.
For more information on the organization’s charitable acts, visit stocktonheat.com.