Lavin, Smith and Head Coach Ted Dent
Rockford, Ill. - Beyond the skill and athleticism shown on the BMO Harris Bank Center ice night in and night out, Rockford IceHogs skaters aim to inspire the Rockford youth and community both with and without a pair of skates.
“As people, I think it’s important we give back,” said IceHogs forward Ben Smith, “especially when we’re very fortunate to do what we do, and have the lifestyle that we have.”
The third-year pro, much like most of his teammates, is no stranger to the Rockford community, making many appearances at local schools, hospitals and events throughout his career with the Hogs.
“The organization does such a great job giving us opportunities that all of it’s very special,” said Smith. “I think visiting schools and especially reading to younger kids is always very rewarding, as is going to play floor hockey and visiting people in hospitals.”
This season, the Hogs even began to give back to the community prior to the start of training camp in late September, when Kyle Beach, Mac Carruth, Jimmy Hayes, Joe Lavin, Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Kent Simpson, Smith and Ryan Stanton all joined together with the Make-A-Wish foundation and appeared as “Celebrity Scoopers” at the Rockford Cold Stone Creamery.
Since the beginning of October, players have committed to more than 70 youth hockey clinics, reading nights, school appearances, bowling events and various other charitable and community events within the Rockford area.
“Bowling events, floor hockey events, the events where we can get involved and set an example for kids are the memorable ones,” said Lavin. “It’s important to give back, especially since everybody grew up and did the same thing: we all went through the ringer and had high aspirations and dreams, so I think it’s really important as a person and as a player to give back.”
Many Hogs - including Adam Clendening, Hayes, Carter Hutton and Brandon Svendsen – have sacrificed their personal time to make it out to schools and hospitals to spend that time reading to students and children. When signing autographs after appearances and reading events, Hutton makes it clear that “if there aren’t any fans, he doesn’t have job.”
But community involvement started before coming to Rockford for some players, including both Lavin and Smith.
Lavin, a Shrewsbury, Mass. native who attended Notre Dame, and Smith, an Avon, Conn. native who attended Boston College, each helped out in their college town communities during their collegiate hockey playing careers.
“We worked a lot with special needs kids, we went to nursing homes, we helped out with different community events for kids in the (South Bend, Ind.) area,” said Lavin. “I’ve always enjoyed it, and it’s good to help out. Everybody appreciates the help, but it’s the unselfish acts and things like that make it all worth it.”
For Smith, the ability to give back and volunteer while a student-athlete at Boston College were similar to the ones he has had in Rockford.
“We had a lot of opportunity through the student-athlete advisory committee,” said Smith, who often visited hospitals and schools in the Boston area in an effort to “try to inspire and up-lift some inner-city students.”
The hospital visits carried into joining Rockford for both players. Along with Clendening, Hayes, Marcus Kruger, Leddy, Morin, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Stanton, Lavin and Smith helped deliver and handout teddy bears that were collected from the IceHogs Teddy Bear Toss on Dec. 8 to patients at Rockford Memorial Hospital and Swedish American Hospital during the holidays.
And the IceHogs fan base has recognized the achievements of these players both off the ice and their gritty play on the ice. Smith was voted the “Rookie of the Year” in 2011 and Rockford’s “Man of the Year” last season, while Lavin proceeded Smith with the Rookie of the Year award.
For Lavin, Smith and the rest of the IceHogs skaters, giving back to the fans and the Rockford community won’t stop, said Smith: “It’s a great part of being a professional hockey player and something that I think we all look forward to doing and will continue to do down the road.”