From the ice to the diamond, those who lace up the skates for a living are on the baseball field in Kelowna to take a swing at supporting mental health.
Elk’s Stadium played host Friday, June 23, to the annual Homebase Charity Slo-Pitch Tournament, marked by the participation of both current and retired NHLers.
Carey Price, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith were just of few of the stars who made their presence felt on the diamond, with the charity game itself named after retired NHL defenceman Josh Gorges and Dallas Stars forward Blake Comeau.
“The purpose we do this is yes, to raise money, but also to raise that awareness for mental health,” Gorges said.
Close to 1,200 people, including Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas, were in attendance for the game, which was played to raise money for the KGH Foundation’s ‘Closer To Home Than You Think’ campaign.
Friday marked the third annual edition of the event.
Gorges and Comeau, a pair of former Memorial Cup champions with the Kelowna Rockets, have co-captained the slo-pitch game since its inception before the pandemic.
They say playing on the diamond in the name of raising funds for mental health initiatives is one thing, but starting a conversation is another.
“For me, the big thing is letting people know that they don’t have to suffer alone,” Comeau said. “It’s OK to speak about it, and it’s definitely OK to get to help, so I think it’s an important conversation and I think the more we talk about it and raise awareness then hopefully we can spread that out outside of this community as well.”
The two former Rockets were joined on the field by two full rosters of nine players. Other NHLers who threw their names in the hat included Canadian gold medal-winning defenceman Brent Seabrook and the Vancouver Canucks’ Tyler Myers.
Georges, who went on to play parts of 12 seasons in the NHL, says he isn’t surprised so many of his fellow pro-hockey stars decided to take a swing at supporting the cause.
“That’s what I find is the great thing about hockey…the community that it has, we would do anything for each other and we’re our own little family, too,” he said. “They’ll always be there to support and if any one of them had something that they were doing, we would be there to support them.”
More than $240,000 was raised for KGH Foundation’s ‘Closer to Home than you think’ campaign in 2022.
With a sold-out crowd at Elk’s Stadium on Friday watching the NHLers round the bases in support of the cause, event organizers say they expect record numbers, once tallied.
An on-field autograph session proceeded first pitch, with hundreds of fans seen sporting their favourite NHL merchandise while meeting the hockey stars in baseball uniforms.
The game itself featured a home run from Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith, and some defensive gems from former Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Cam Barker.