CARDIFF – The UK Charity Allstars are taking to the ice at the end of July – and they’ve already raised an impressive £113,000 for 10 charities.
The event, now in its tenth year, promises to be bigger and better than ever. Eight recreational teams have been busy raising money for their chosen charities, and they will compete for the All-Stars trophy in Cardiff, Wales. Before that, for the first time ever, there’s a curtain raiser involving two teams of professional players – many of whom have connections with local heroes Cardiff Devils. It all adds up to a festival of fundraising fun, according to organiser Geraint Walters.
“It’s just an amazing sum of money when you look at how we started out,” he said. “In the first year, they raised about £3,000. I got involved six years ago, and that year we raised about £15,000. Now we’re over £100,000 before the weekend has even started. It’s incredible to see how it’s grown so quickly.”
The All-Stars have also enjoyed some memorable moments, building friendships through the game and forging links between hockey and the wider community. For Walters, one highlight comes from his first year in the event.
“One of our players then, Sean Phillips, was only 16,” Walters recalled. “He’d just been given the all-clear from cancer and he went out and got the winning goal in the final. It just seemed to bring together everything we were trying to do, it was a real stand-out memory.”
This year promises to bring another special moment for nine-year-old Mia Thorne. She’s been nominated to get the weekend started with a ceremonial penalty shot, despite struggling against cerebral palsy. The courageous youngster has spent the past 12 months learning to skate so that she can fulfil this challenge and raise money in support of the Dream Come True foundation, a charity that has supported her and her family in the past. To date she’s raised over £6,000 for the organisation.
The All-Stars have raised almost half a million pounds over the past decade. The event has visited several of Britain’s main hockey centres, including Sheffield, Basingstoke and Cardiff, since two friends, David Grant and Gareth Hubback, set it up a decade ago. This year’s event, the biggest yet, is set to benefit 10 different groups, offering support to local and national healthcare charities, ex-servicemen and more.
Over those 10 years, the event has cemented itself in the British ice hockey calendar – and enthusiasts are travelling from far and wide to get involved. Walters is part of a group of seven flying in from Belfast – but he’s far from the most adventurous traveller on the roster.
“We’ve even had a player flying in from Dubai for some of the previous events,” he said. “It just shows how much people want to make an effort and get involved. When people see so much rivalry between players and teams on the ice in the pro game, they might be surprised at how hockey also brings out the best in people. As soon as the game is over, it’s all a different mentality, like a family.”
For the landmark 2017 edition, the organisers have introduced the first ever All-Stars Pro Challenge. Played at Ice Arena Wales on Friday, 28 July, it’s a curtain raiser for the two-day tournament and promises to bring a host of famous names from three decades of British hockey. The two teams are captained by former Cardiff Devils and Durham Wasps star Ian Cooper and another Devils legend Max Birbraer. Names on the rosters so far include Nicky Chinn, voted Team GB’s best player on its last appearance in the World Championship top division in 1994, iconic Devils hot-shot Steve Moria and current Cardiff captain Jake Morissette, fresh from lifting last year’s Elite League title. GB international Robert Dowd, who helped the national team to Division I Group B gold in Belfast last April, is also on the roster along with another active player, Phil Hill, a long-serving member of several GB and Devils teams.
“We’ve not done anything like this before and we’re hoping it will get even more awareness for us,” Walters added. “Also, it should be a lot of fun. It’s great to see some of these guys again.”
The money raised from the Friday night game will be shared between two charities. Cooper has nominated the Ice Hockey Players’ Benevolent Fund, of which he is a trustee. Birbraer is raising cash for SCIPS, a special care unit for premature and seriously ill babies at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
After the pros have done their stuff, the attention turns to recreational players. Since day one, the British hockey playing community has been at the heart of the event as it grew steadily from a one-off sponsored game between two teams into this year’s eight-team competition. Each of the teams is made up of players from across the country, with semi-pros lining up alongside guys who might never have seriously played before signing up for the fundraiser. Each team has nominated a charity and is raising as much money as possible for their chosen cause in a range of auctions, challenges and a few wagers and forfeits among the players taking part. Along the way, lovingly assembled collections of hockey jerseys have been sold off in a good cause. In addition, all the cash raised in Cardiff over the Saturday and Sunday – from ticket and program sales, raffles, prize draws and more – will be shared between the eight charities.
The causes set to benefit are: Blue Cross (animal welfare), Breast Cancer Care, the British Heart Foundation, Dreams Come True (a fund to help critically ill children fulfil an ambition), Help For Heroes (support for disabled ex-servicemen), Prostate Cancer UK, Ty Hafan (children’s hospice in Cardiff), and the Wales Air Ambulance. Tickets are available for all three days in Cardiff. The Pro Allstar Challenge game is priced at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions. The Saturday and Sunday tournament days are £3 each or £5 for both days. Anyone can donate to any of the causes via the Allstars website at www.ukcharityallstars.com