After spurring the collection of countless teddy bears when he scored 34 seconds into Saturday’s contest with the Swift Current Broncos, Kootenay Ice centre Matt Alfaro helped spread some holiday cheer Wednesday morning.
Along with teammates Bryan Allbee, Wyatt Hoflin and Zak Zborosky, Alfaro visited the East Kootenay Regional Hospital (EKRH), distributing teddy bears, posing for photos and signing autographs for patients and staff.
While the annual A&W Teddy Bear, Toque & Mitten Toss is perhaps the most well known community initiative the Kootenay Ice take part in from season to season, it’s just one of many opportunities players take to give back to Cranbrook.
“It’s always good to brighten up peoples’ day,” Alfaro said with a smile outside of East Kootenay Regional Hospital following Wednesday’s excursion.
Travelling from floor to floor and wing to wing, the veteran players took time to chat with anyone they met in their travels, whether that meant a cancer patient in the oncology ward or a new mother of twins in the maternity ward.
“It kind of makes you realize how lucky you are sometimes when you’re healthy and you have a healthy family,” Allbee said. “You see a lot of parents in there. But you see a lot of good things, too. We saw a mom who had just had twins. She was pretty happy. You get to see both sides of it and you’ve just got to be thankful for everything.
“It’s nice to give back. There are people in there that love watching our team no matter how we’re doing at times. They show a lot of support, so it’s nice for us to give back.”
Allbee’s statement couldn’t be more accurate.
While the players were on hand at EKRH to show their support for those battling tough times, the same consideration was shown to them, with staff and patients sharing their own encouragements for a group enduring a challenging 2015-16 WHL campaign.
Outside of Wednesday’s trip to EKRH, the Ice have volunteered with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle campaign, the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Remembrance Day wreath campaign, the Golden Life Management Silver Fox Run, Denham Ford’s Drive One for your Community, the JDRF Walk to End Diabetes, Don Cherry’s Sports Grill Street Hockey Tournament and the Cranbrook Health Care Auxiliary Fashion Show as well.
In local schools and at the Cranbrook Public Library, the Ice have made regular appearances to read with children. Wednesday morning, they visited Gordon Terrace Elementary School to play in the park with students and have made other trips to play floor hockey in recent months.
Those represent just a host of the appearances the Ice have made throughout the first half of 2015-16 Western Hockey League campaign with more still on the horizon.
In his third season in Cranbrook, the 19-year-old Alfaro is no stranger to community events, citing the teddy bear share and kettle bell campaign as two of his favourites.
Both Alfaro and Allbee spent part of Tuesday volunteering on behalf of the Salvation Army Christmas Kettle campaign, prior to taking to the ice for a game against the Red Deer Rebels.
Wednesday’s trip to EKRH was the first chance for Allbee, in his second season with the Ice, to take part in the teddy bear share. For the native of Prince George, it already ranks as one of the more rewarding community events he’s had the opportunity to take part in.
“It’s nice just to give back,” Allbee said. “I love seeing the kids with smiles on their faces when you give them a teddy bear. It’s pretty cool.”
The Kootenay Ice wrap up their pre-Christmas schedule with a pair of road games this weekend, visiting the Red Deer Rebels Friday before heading north to take on the Edmonton Oil Kings Saturday.
Next home action for the Kootenay Ice comes Sunday, Dec. 27 (4 p.m.) when the Calgary Hitmen visit Western Financial Place.