On Saturday, July 21, the current Devils winger will be on the ice at the Riley Rink in Manchester, taking part in a charity ice hockey game that will benefit the Bennington Autism Task Force and the rink's Jonathan Levin Scholarship Fund.
Gionta is one of ten NHL, AHL, ECHL and European-based professionals that will appear in the game, other top names include Greg Mauldin of the Colorado Avalanche, 13-year NHL veteran Jaroslav Modry, UVM alums Graham Mink and Martin Wilde and top Div. I NCAA talent Matt White. The 12 professional players will mix with 14 local amateur players to create two teams.
"We've had so much excitement among the 14 guys," said Ron Marcellus, who organized the event. "They are going to tone it down a bit for us, it could be more like a game of keep away. So we are going to mix everyone."
Among the local players that will take the ice alongside the pros are Burr and Burton alums Connor Stewart and Sooner Dawson, BBA headmaster Mark Tashjian, goalie Dennis Gallagher, Castleton State College men's ice hockey team captain Brett Zeggil and event organizers Marcellus and Keith Sullivan.
"Many of us, instead of skating maybe once a week, are all of the sudden saying maybe I oughta skate twice a week," said Marcellus.
The rare oppurtunity to see NHL players is free to the public, with a suggested
"Since the players are not asking for appearance fees, nothing, they are just giving, we thought we would share that with the community," said Marcellus. "If people are inspired to give more, there will be a donation box."
The idea for the game came from Marcellus, who organized a charity game between local players last December.
The game was very successful and Marcellus was approached by Sullivan, a NHL scout, who expressed interest in having a summer game, complete with professional players to garner more interest.
"Keith [Sullivan], who travels all winter, couldn't make it to the first game," said Marcellus. "He said, 'I am off all summer, I really want to do something. What if I can get NHL players?' That's how this event came about."
Sullivan made the phone calls, gathering interested players, while Marcellus teamed with Susan Marmer at Riley Rink worked to organize the event.
"This was just planned a couple of weeks ago; Keith said 'let's do this,'" said Marmer.
The original game was a fund-raiser for the Bennington Austism Task Force, but with the Rink on board, the organizers added the Jonathan Levin Scholarship Fund as a recipient, which provides funds for fees and equipment based upon financial need.
"A portion of the proceeds will go directly to the fund, which helps the rest of our local kids," said Marmer. "It was important that it was included."
The Bennington Austim Task Force, which is the other beneficiary of the game, works to create an environment where families affected by autism can thrive. The organization works to help train teachers, doctors and other professionals that may come into contact with people with autism, and helps to educate people about what autism is.
According to Sullivan, the players that he talked were excited to come out and help raise money for a worthy cause. The National Hockey League is also partnered with Austism Speaks, which is a national organization working to raise awareness about autism.
"We've noticed as we have contacted a couple of players that there is an increased awareness about the cause," said Marcellus. "The players are very excited about coming and doing this. They are curious, for some of them this is their first time doing a benefit for autism."
In addition to the raising money for the cause, both Marcellus and Sullivan are hoping to sell the area and the Riley Rink to some of the visiting players.
"I think Manchester has a lot to offer," said Sullivan. "There's a lot there to offer and the arena is a real nice facility. I know that the pro players saw it as they would want to come."
In addition to the game, there will be Chuck-A-Puck, a Jersey off the Back Auction and a spotlight game between the professional players and the Southern Vermont Avalanche, a local U-16 girls development team.
The Pro-Am Hockey Fundraiser will be held on Saturday, July 21, at 7 p.m. at the Riley Rink. There is a $5 suggested donation to come and enjoy the game. The game is sponsored by Stifel Nicolaus, Merchants Bank and Hand Chevrolet.