Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lacing up for a 'Great Skate' and a great time

Hanging with Justin Abdelkader, who scored in last year's Stanley Cup finals.

The most dangerous part of ice skating, I’ve decided, is not the hard, slick ice, the freezing temperatures or even the sharp blades of steel.

No, the hazardous parts are little kids.

There are two kinds. The fearful inch along, stop without warning and when they fall – which is often – their blades go every which way, threatening to slice ankles of passers by.

Then there are the fearless, kids who skate better than I can walk, going forward, backward, sideways all at great speed and only occasionally looking where they going.

But once I learned to dodge the tots, I had a wonderful time as a “celebrity skater” on Sunday with the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team.

The Griffins are the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliate in the American Hockey League, and are very active in the community. Players participated in a downtown Winterfest, followed by a marathon “Great Skate” to raise money for the West Michigan Youth Hockey Foundation.

The team asked me to join in the fun, and I was thrilled. I had not laced up skates in about eight years, but team staffers assured me the skill would come back easily. And that was true!

After viewing the porcupine and owl brought over from the local zoo an several neat ice sculptures, Caroline and I pulled on our blades and I hit the ice at Rosa Parks Circle. After a slow, cautious lap or two, we were skating with ease.

The team announced that I was out there, and was, in fact the leading fundraiser in the celebrity/media division. Nobody booed, which is what I feared.

The Griffins do a wonderful job with the event, and some of their top players were out there greeting fans, signing autographs and posing for photos as they skated.

Center Justin Abdelkader has spent most of the season with the parent Red Wings. He’s famous for setting an NHL record that won’t soon be matched – scoring his first two career goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals.

Goaltender Thomas McCollum is a fellow New Yorker, but he’s from the Niagara Falls area, about as far from Long Island as one can be and still be in the state. We had a nice time chatting about the Homeland. He was the Red Wings’ first-round draft pick last year.

Center/wing Evan McGrath has been with the Griffins for four years, and ranks among the team’s all-time leaders in several categories.

Thank you to every one who donated and made this event a lot of fun!