NHL pros, local players team up for good cause

MANCHESTER - Already leading midway through the third period, Washington Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault broke in on goal, looking to extend his team's lead.

Perreault fired a wrist shot but was denied by the goalie, who flashed his glove and snared the puck. The netminder, however, wasn't one of Perreault's usual nemeses - the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist or New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

It was recent Burr and Burton Academy graduate Connor Stewart.

"I wasn't scared, let's just say that," said Stewart. "I was happy, because it's fun. It's a great cause and it's a bunch of studs out there. It's fun, they made it fun."

Perreault was one of 16 NHL, AHL, European-based professionals and U.S. college hockey players to take part in the Pro-Am Hockey Fundraiser at Riley Rink in Manchester on Saturday. The pros teamed up with 14 locals, including Stewart, to help raise money for the Bennington Autism Task Force and the Rink's Jonathan Levin Scholarship Fund.

"I know the players and the hockey community was really moved and excited about this," said Ron Marcellus, one of the event's organizers and one of the local players. "From what we are hearing, the players want to come back. So maybe, we could have another event. I think all of us would like to see that."

The players broke into two teams, with Team Grey coming out on top, defeating Team Blue 14-7.

"The pace was really quick, I was not expecting it to be that fast," said Colorado Avalanche winger Greg Mauldin, who played for Team Grey. "I thought, 'Oh, we are going to go out here and have some fun.' Next thing you know, guys are coming a little bit harder than I thought. It was fun."

Team Grey featured Perreault, Mauldin, 13-year NHL veteran Jaroslav Modry, Division I NCAA hockey standouts Matt White and Will O'Neill, Canadian college player Alexandre Labonte, and professional players Corey Milan and Nick Kuiper, as well as locals Sandy Sumner, Sam Leech, Jim Most, Marcellus, Connor Leggett and Jay Leech.

"Us locals were just kind of awestruck at how fast the pace was," said Marcellus. "I was sitting next to a guy who has played 800 games in the NHL; it was pretty impressive. Definitely a level of play [the] local guys [haven't] seen."

Team Blue featured New Jersey Devils winger Stephen Gionta, AHL players Barry Goers, Graham Mink, and Andre Bouvet-Morrissette, former UVM standout Martin Wilde, Austrian-based pro Marc-Andre Dorion, Middlebury assistant coach Mason Graddock, and Castleton State College player Brett Zeggil, as well as local players Stewart, Paul Barci, Sooner Dawson, Bob Wendell, John Sisters, Dennis Gallagher, Jim Thibodeau, and Mark Tashjian.

"It was amazing, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience," said local participant Jay Leech. "It was a tremendous success."

Perreault was the standout on the ice, scoring four goals in the game. Mauldin and Mink each had two goals.

Team Grey ran away in the win in the third period, outscoring Team Blue 6-0 in the final frame. But the result was secondary to the game, with all the players coming together.

"Anytime you can raise money for a good cause, it's pretty important to come out," said Mauldin. "If my name can bring someone out and bring some money in, that would be great."

The night also featured the professional players playing a six- minute game with the Southern Vermont Avalanche, a U-16 girls summer team, two shoot-out competitions, a Chuck-A-Puck, and Jersey Off the Back silent auction.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart was also on hand, signing autographs in between periods and whistling players for penalties during the game.

Over 200 people packed Riley Rink to take in the action, which was organized by Marcellus and Winnipeg Jets scout Keith Sullivan.

"Everyone was having out there. Guys were just joking around on the ice, having fun. It was actually some of the most fun I have had playing hockey since I was a little kid," said Mauldin. "It really was just about going out there and having fun and raising money for a good cause."


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