Continuing their tradition of giving back to the Town, three pro hockey players with deep Charlestown roots delighted kids from the neighborhood last Friday night, July 27, when they came to Bryan McGonagle Rink for some relaxed and informal street hockey fun.
The first-ever event – dubbed Pick Up with a Pro – was sponsored by Michael Lacey’s Bar Down Strength and Conditioning, and brought New York Ranger Jimmy Vesey, Edmonton Oiler Nolan Vesey and Boston Bruin Matt Grzelcyk back to their home stomping grounds to run a clinic and a pick-up street hockey game with about 100 local kids.
They were introduced by former pro player Joe Brennan, who helped Lacey to coordinate the one-night event.
Wide-eyed and itching to impress their heroes, the kids participated in a workout, followed by a skills exhibition, autographs and, finally, a pick-up game between the three standouts and a cadre of eager youngsters.
Boys in Bruins shirts called for the pros to pass them the ball, calling out, “Grizzy, Grizzy, right here, I’m open!”
And young girls ran down the rink with their hockey sticks raised, New York Rangers hats on, yelling, “Jimmy, pass it to me!”
It was the stuff that – certainly in Charlestown – dreams are made of for young kids.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community, and that’s important to me,” said Grzelcyk. “It’s important for me because I grew up here, I’m a city kid, and now I’m a Bruin and I want to give back to the kids who are like me when I was young. It is surreal. I can remember being this young and looking up to those guys on TV and wanting to be like them. I’m glad to do it.”
The Vesey brothers seemed to have the most fun in the pick-up game, at one point with Nolan firing the ball past Jimmy with a potent wrister. All three players mixed it up in good fun with the kids on the boards and with one another as well.
“Yea, Jimmy and I had a little fun there, but it was all in good fun,” said Nolan. “This was a great turnout. If I can come back and tell them that I did this, they can believe that they can do it too. My parents grew up here. My family is here. I have a lot of love for this community and what it did for me and youth hockey here. This is where we all started.”
Jimmy Vesey said he hasn’t played roller hockey or street hockey in a long time, but it was a great evening – mostly because he treasures giving back his time and energy to young people in Charlestown.
“It was great to give back to the community,” he said. “There are so many young players. To show them that hockey can become a reality is really big for them. I haven’t played street hockey in a long time and it’s good to get back to doing that. We didn’t play much at this rink, but we were always over at Eden Street.”
Lacey said he was glad to offer the first event for the neighborhood with the pros, and was encouraged so many came out to take advantage. Many of the players are his clients and train with him in the off-season.
“We love the kids and we love the pros,” he said. “One thing brings us all together – hockey.”
In a fun moment, the kids were able to ask the pros who the toughest player is in the NHL.
Hands down – it was Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Crosby is the best in the league right now,” said Jimmy Vesey. “His forehand, backhand and slapshot are amazing. He also tips pucks out of the air a lot. He can score in so many ways and his hand-eye coordination is so good. As you grow up, work on your backhand and your hand-eye coordination.”