NHL star visits Black Hawks

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St. Albert atom hockey team won contest to have McDonald's Canada atoMc ambassador Drew Doughty join the players at their end-of-season celebration

An Olympic gold medallist and Stanley Cup champion made his first visit to St. Albert a memorable experience for an atom hockey team Wednesday.

Los Angeles Kings’ defenceman Drew Doughty joined the St. Albert Black Hawks for a meal at McDonald’s and a game of ball hockey at Service Credit Union Place through McDonald’s Canada atoMc hockey program.

“It’s amazing coming here and seeing these kids and making their day and putting smiles on their faces,” Doughty said.

The Black Hawks were one of three contest winners across Canada to have an atoMc ambassador participate at their end-of-season team celebration.

The Blacks Hawks, along with contest winners from Louiseville, Que. and Dieppe, N.B. received a full set of pro-style jerseys and socks, plus team kits.

The program is the only Hockey Canada endorsed initiative in the county that allows participating players the opportunity to wear the same Hockey Canada logo on their jerseys the Team Canada players wear at the World Junior Championship and Olympic Winter Games.

“To be part of this atoMc hockey program is amazing. They help over 45,000 kids across Canada. They put jerseys on their backs, give them socks and give the coaches coaching supplies. They do so much and for me to be one of the spokespersons for that means a lot to me and I hope to be one for a long time,” said Doughty.

He is arguably the biggest celebrity to set foot inside the McDonald’s on St. Albert Trail since it re-opened after renovations.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Rob Chiasson, owner/operator with wife Karen of the St. Albert Trail location. “Karen and I are delighted to have Drew here. We’ve had the atoMc hockey players in our restaurants for a lot of different things, like our grand opening and for our McHappy Day, but having an NHL player here with us so the kids can get up close and ask him questions is a thrill of a lifetime for these kids and it’s exciting for us to see that on their faces.”

It was the last team function for the Black Hawks, who played in the atom development league last season.

“We’re pumped. This is incredible. The kids are so excited to meet an NHL star and for them to talk to him is pretty cool,” said Nathan Giesbrecht, head coach of the Black Hawks. “To be a part of something like this in my opinion is a once in a lifetime thing and it’s something I will next forget and neither will the kids. It’s unbelievable.”

Black Hawks manager Jason Cooke entered the Black Hawks in the contest and the big winners were the 14 players.

“It’s really cool because I actually get some tips of what an actual NHL player will do in his career. It’s just amazing,” said nine-year-old goalie John Cahoon. “One thing I want to ask him is how it felt to win the cup.”

Defenceman Blake Giesbrecht, 10, was another star-struck Black Hawk rubbing shoulders with Doughty.

“It’s so exciting,” he said. “I asked him what team he hated to play the most and he said the St. Louis Blues.”

Hanging out with the Black Hawks brought back memories for Doughty of his minor hockey career in London, Ont.

“I kind of miss those days sometimes. I was telling them I’m an adult now and I have to be responsible. Back then hockey was just fun. You didn’t have to play for anyone or anybody, you just went out there and played the game. Now as you get older, playing hockey is a job and a career and it’s a lot more pressure on you,” said the junior standout of the Guelph Storm, who was twice voted the Ontario Hockey League’s top offensive defenceman.

He was picked second overall by the Kings in the 2008 NHL entry draft and in five seasons with Los Angeles recorded 49 goals and 184 points in 364 games.

“I wanted to make the NHL ever since I was three years old but I never really thought it was going to happen until I got drafted. It was always a dream of mine and I’m sure a dream of these guys. I just told them to work hard and have fun and have great teamwork and try and fulfil your dream,” said the 2008 All-Rookie Team selection and 2010 finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable defenceman.

Doughty, 23, arrived in St. Albert fresh from the Canadian Olympic team’s orientation camp in Calgary, which included a ball hockey teaching session.

“The camp was great. It was a lot of fun,” he said. “The ball hockey thing was moreso to learn our systems, kind of like an NFL style walk-through kind of thing where you walk through your routes and know what you have to do. We watch a little video too, but one of the key parts was just creating that off-ice chemistry. A lot of us had never met each other and we had team dinners and team socials and that kind of got us talking to each other and having some fun.”

When Canada beat the United States on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics is still fresh in Doughty’s mind.

“I will never forget that moment obviously. I know what it took to win that gold medal and if I’m fortunate enough to be on the team again (for Sochi in 2014) I’m going to do everything I can to hopefully win another one,” said Doughty, who has represented Canada four times internationally and was the top defenceman at the 2008 World Junior Championship when Canada won gold.

The 2012 Stanley Cup victory was another career highlight.

“It was the best day of my life and I can’t wait to win another one and bring it back to London, Ontario again. We have a great team in LA. It’s a great organization and we’re hoping to make another run at it some day,” said the leading scorer among defencemen in the 2012 playoffs with 20 points in 16 games.

To say that Doughty is walking on sunshine as an NHL player is an understatement, especially after signing an eight-year, $56 million contract on Sept. 29, 2011.

“It’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade what I do for the world, but at the same time I’ve got to make sure I’m still level headed and stay grounded. I don’t want to take anything for granted. I’m one of the most competitive people out there and I just want to keep working hard and become a better player every year.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.