Debra Born, Staff Writer
Utica College’s Men’s Ice Hockey assisted an elderly woman who almost lost her Whitesboro home after the recent flooding that swept through the greater Utica area.
The staff, including Head Coach Gary Heenan, Assistant Coach Nick Therrian and Trainer Chris Warner, heard the woman’s home was in trouble and they drove to her house and assessed the damage. The first floor was partially engulfed by the deep waters and the group removed the furniture and ripped out all the carpets to get rid of the smells and prevent mold from setting in. They then brought the water-damaged furniture out to the curb for the woman.
Heading up the effort was Heenan.
“We received a call from a friend of the program asking if we could help an older lady whose house was flooded and she had no family in town to help,” Heenan said. “We arrived and her house was absolutely ravaged by flood waters.”
Heenan said the American Red Cross was out the same night providing aid to community members.
“I was taken aback by seeing the Red Cross vehicle that night stopping to hand out warm dinners to those residents who are literally a mile from campus,” he said. “I was glad we were able to help and happy to see most student groups giving back on a weekly basis while here in the City of Utica.”
The woman, who the staff referred to as “Mrs. Hughes,” will have to find a new home because of the severe water damage.
“Mrs. Hughes was pumped up to see us,” Therrian said. “She was thankful we cleaned her house but I think she enjoyed our company the most. She teared up a bit as we all hugged her goodbye.”
Although the staff took up the challenge this time, Heenan said there was nothing unusual about the team helping people.
“Our players are always out helping local families in need but they were in class so it was the staff’s turn to step up,” he said. “Everyone’s been helped at some point in their lives—when the call comes it’s your turn to help someone else.”
The hockey team recently ranked number 12 on the United States College Hockey Organization but the students find time to support the community.
Each week, the students will take turns working at volunteer events, selling jerseys and raffle tickets at their games that support local charities, helping provide immediate nutrition at soup kitchens and assisting with campus needs. Each fall, the team visits a retirement home and helps the elders with ALS get some outdoor exercise. The team also attends community events, such as the Veteran’s Day Ceremony in the Adirondack Bank Center on Nov. 11 and the St. Jude’s Walk to End Childhood Cancer.
“The guys lead by example and understand the importance of giving back within a community that supports our team so well,” Heenan said.
The efforts the hockey teams give toward the community boomerangs back to them because the stands are filled with strong supporters.
“We sell out just about every game,” said sophomore Eric Holland, forward left-wing player for the hockey team. “We got here by the help of others. It’s partly our responsibility to give back to the community that basically brought us up.”
Other UC sports teams are active in the community, including football, which hosts a “Believe Bowl” every year to allow children from the Thea Bowman House fighting childhood cancer practice with the team before a game. Football’s largest charity event is involvement in the America’s Greatest Heart Run and Walk.
Holland gave a shout-out to the women’s hockey team as well.
“The girls’ hockey team is always big in helping out the community,” Holland said. “Men’s hockey, we’re always doing something. And we get more support for what we do.”
Left-wing junior ice hockey player Conor Landrigan echoed Holland’s sentiments but said the effort is also a way to thank the team’s fans.
“It is incredibly important that the team be involved in supporting and helping our community,” Landrigan said. “This is the community that comes out in incredible numbers every single home game to support us. We have fans travel hours away to road games just to cheer us on, so I think it’s the least we can do to be out helping our community.”
Landrigan said the of the fans makes Utica the “best best place to play in Division III hockey” because of the“energy and enthusiasm” of the Pioneers hockey fans.
“Any way we can pay back the amazing support our community has given us is well worth doing,” Landrigan said. “Utica wouldn’t be the same without them so it’s very important that we give something back to them when we have the chance.”
Holland said the team is much more than the games.
“It is good for others to see that we’re helping our community out,” Holland said. “We’re more than just hockey players, we are students and community members. All it takes is one person to do something good to make another follow in their footsteps.”
Therrian said the team enjoys giving back to the community.
“We want to provide the city of Utica an entertaining product on the ice while also having a positive impact in the community,” he said. “We can do that by providing service to the Uticans that need it most.”