On Wednesday, July 20, the Cottage Grove Ice Arena will host a hockey game that NHL fans won't want to miss. It's the first Stepan/Chorney/Taffe NHL Players Charity Hockey Game, a fundraising event to benefit the Hastings Hockey Association, Defending the Blue Line and the Cottage Grove Hockey Association.
More than 30 current NHL players will be at the event to sign autographs and play a game of two 25-minute periods. Among them will be Derek Stepan (NY Rangers), Taylor Chorney (Edmonton Oilers), Jeff Taffe (Minnesota Wild), as well as Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Jamie McBain (Carolina Hurricanes), Ryan McDonagh (NY Rangers), Jordan Schroder (Vancouver Canucks), Kyle Okposo (NY Islanders), Phil Housley (Buffalo Sabres), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis Blues), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets), Alex Goligoski (Dallas Stars), Jordon Leopold (Buffalo Sabres) and Paul Martin (Pittsburgh Penguins), to name a few.
The idea for the charity came from the Stepan family.
"It started with me and my son deciding we were going to do something to give back," said Brad Stepan, Derek Stepan's father.
Two other Hastings native NHL players, Chorney and Taffe, also wanted to get involved, and they started thinking of ways they could raise money for local hockey organizations. From there, it snowballed into an event that's attracted more attention than they ever expected.
"It is a really, really big event," Brad Stepan said.
Derek Stepan, Chorney and Taffe reached out to other hockey players and got about 35 of them to join the cause. Along with raising funds for the Hastings Hockey Association, the charity game will also support Hastings-based Defending the Blue Line, which provides hockey equipment and opportunities to the children of military parents.
"A number of NHL players are starting to kind of align themselves with that organization," said Matt Larson, another organizer.
The charity will also provide support for the Cottage Grove Hockey Association, which is providing the arena and concessions for the event.
The event begins at 5:30 p.m., when the players will be available for autographs. Those who want autographs are encouraged to arrive early (doors open at 5 p.m.). In the interest of time, players will only be able to sign one item per person. People will be able to get autographs from every player, Larson said. There will be T-shirts and miniature hockey sticks for sale at the event, and people can bring their own items to be signed.
For the game itself, the players are divided into teams based on their actual conference association, keeping true NHL rivalries in place. There will be 15 skaters per team plus two goalies for each team.
Between the two halves, the players will honor George Savage, the first president of the Hastings Hockey Association. There will also be a comedian who skates on stilts.
Fans will also get a chance to purchase a limited number of actual NHL jerseys after the game, and every jersey worn for the charity game will also be auctioned off.
"The player will actually come and take the jersey off, sign it right there and hand it to them," Larson said.
The charity game jerseys have been specially designed for the event.
In early June, the charity's organizers got word that their game had caught the attention of the National Hockey League Players Association. The NHLPA decided to award 25 sets of hockey equipment to the cause through its Goals and Dreams program.
"When we started this, that was not even on our radar," Larson said.
Besides offering financial support for the organizations, the charity game recognizes and honors the work they do - especially the Hastings Hockey Association.
"We think the players are pretty special, their willingness to give back is pretty neat ... and we're pretty proud of what the program has produced," Larson said.
Derek Stepan, Chorney and Taffe all took part in the Hastings Hockey Association in their youth and went on to play professionally.
"I don't know that there's another (youth program) out there who can boast that," Larson said.
The Cottage Grove Ice Arena can hold about 1,000 people. Larson said he hopes the place will be filled come July 20.
"I don't think young hockey players will ever get this close to 35 NHL players ever again," Brad Stepan said.
"I hope people get out and enjoy this," he said. "It should be fun. It should be a great event."
The Cottage Grove Ice Arena is located at 8020 80th St. S. in Cottage Grove. Tickets to the game are $35 at the door. To see an event flyer go to www.hastingshockey.com. For ticket information or questions, contact Matt Larson at 612-600-8223, Brad Stepan at 651-983-9802, or Brian Jones at 651-480-1766.