Loading Scoreboard...

Sharks show their softer sides in the community


by Kimberly Dunbar || AHL On The Beat Archive


armstrong-riley_200.jpg
Hockey is a sport well known for its grit and toughness. But just like there are two sides to every hockey stick, there are two sides to the Worcester Sharks. On the ice, the Sharks have a lot of bite, but off the ice, the players have a softer edge to their personalities.

Take, for example, Riley Armstrong, whom you might have noticed is sporting some longer locks under his helmet this season. Armstrong is growing his hair for Locks of Love in support of cancer awareness.

“I had an aunt who died of leukemia and my mom had cancer,” said the Sharks forward, who decided to donate his hair this year after seeing a teammate do it a few years ago. “I wanted to call it ‘Curls for Girls’ but they wouldn’t let me,” he added.

Armstrong said he usually lets his curls grow a few inches during the season to provide extra warmth for his head, but nothing like the eight to ten inches of hair Locks of Love requires men to donate. However, Armstrong is confident he will be able to do it. He is scheduled to shave his head on center ice at the Sharks’ final home game on April 13th.

The Saskatchewan native learned early on it was important to give back. “When I was little, there was a junior hockey team nearby in Saskatoon who would come and spend time in the community,” he said.

Armstrong has since done a good job of heeding the message; he was recognized as the team’s 2006-2007 Man of the Year for his outstanding community service during the season. “I like to go to schools and hospitals, basically anything I can do to make a kid smile because it makes my day, too,” he said.

Earlier this season, goaltender Thomas Greiss donned a pink mask for October and November in honor of breast cancer awareness. The game-used mask was auctioned off for $5,000 on NHL.com, and the proceeds went straight to the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge of Worcester.

“I was happy when I found out how much it went for,” said Greiss. He added that the idea came from Sharks director of youth hockey and community relations Michael Myers, who had also designed Greiss’ pink mask. “I try to do community service whenever I can,” said Greiss, who added he might wear a pink mask again next season.

While most minor league teams attempt to embrace their community, the Worcester Sharks have taken it to another level. In addition to their “Reading is Cool” program, the Sharks, in conjunction with Abigail Williams and Associates, have launched the “Be a Leader” program.

Sharks defenseman and captain Dan Spang, a Winchester native and Boston University alum, is the face of the new program dedicated to making a difference in the community. With the help of community leaders and his teammates, Spang travels to local school assemblies to help teach leadership qualities to kids.

“We are in a position where we can help the community, and the kids look up to us,” said Spang. “This is a great opportunity to do something good.” Spang said he tries to set a good example by visiting hospitals and schools, among other things.

While the Sharks organization is making friends with the Worcester community, there are two teammates who share a deep friendship of their own. Forwards Mike Iggulden and Dennis Packard grew up together in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, but the friends were forced to split when Packard’s family moved to Pennsylvania when they were eight-year-olds.

The duo was reunited this season when they both earned spots on the Sharks roster, and – on some nights – the same offensive line. “We grew up learning how to skate together on the same rink,” said Iggulden, who added the friends stayed in touch after Packard moved away.

The two saw each other in college as well, but as opponents. “I played against Mike for three years in college,” said Packard, a Harvard alum. Iggulden, who went to Cornell, said playing against his buddy was always a good time: “Our schools were big rivals, and going against good friends is always much more intense and fun.”

This summer, Worcester pried Packard away from the Providence Bruins. Iggulden insists he doesn’t have much pull but did put in a good word for his long-time friend when the scouts asked about Packard last season.

Whether Iggulden’s influence worked or not, the two are happy with the results. “The odds of being on the same team are slim, so it’s a pretty fun opportunity to be able to be on the ice together,” said Iggulden.

So while the Sharks are tough as nails and all about business on the ice, they’re all about heart, friendship, and community off the ice. What more you could ask for in a team?

To purchase tickets or for more information on the Worcester Sharks’ community programs, visit www.sharksahl.com.

To learn more about Locks of Love, visit http://locksoflove.org/.