📝 by Patrick Williams
The Colorado Eagles only needed a visit with a 5-year-old fan to make them quickly forget a tough loss on home ice.
After all, it was the team’s annual Pot of Gold event, and Jayce Vogel was on hand to see the Eagles clad in St. Patrick’s Day jerseys designed specially for the night. COVID-19 restrictions had caused the event’s postponement for the past two seasons, but the fundraiser night has been a beloved tradition for a club that has built one of the tightest fan bases in the American Hockey League.
“I think the players really make the whole thing go,” said Gavin Riches, the team’s executive vice president of corporate sales. “It doesn’t matter what happens on the scoreboard, it’s about that family that you’re playing for.
“The guys, they really wear their hearts on their sleeves for this one. They want to get to know the family. They want to get to know the story.”
Adopted by Bryan and Kristi Vogel, Jayce was six months old when doctors diagnosed him with stage 4 metastatic neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor that begins in nerve tissue of infants and very young children. Treating the condition has meant multiple rounds of chemotherapy and more than a dozen rounds of immunotherapy. Moreover, Jayce also is the only child anywhere in the world known to have a condition called vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). Standard treatments options for VIP have not been successful, meaning that it can only be managed rather than cured in Jayce’s case.
Such extensive treatment does not come cheaply for Jayce’s parents, especially with a care plan that eventually led to monthly trips from Colorado to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for more than a year and a half. Those costs for travel and accommodations alone add up dramatically, especially for a family with six children (four of them adopted).
So the Pot of Gold Night concept is simple ― find a Jayce who needs financial help and raise money for that cause. With a passionate fan base and robust group of corporate partners, the initiative has found considerable success since it debuted in 2012.
The Eagles have assisted the Vogels much like they had helped others in need. That March 19 game against the visiting Stockton Heat and an auction for those game-worn St. Patrick’s jerseys raised $115,237 from the team, fans, and sponsors.
Fans also had the opportunity to purchase replicas of those special jerseys and other green-themed merchandise to wear to the game. Subaru of Loveland donated a portion of its sales via the event and served up an additional donation with the “Chuck-A-Puck” promotion. Lucky Joe’s in Old Town Fort Collins along with the Larimer and Weld County sheriff’s departments sponsored the jerseys, which featured prior Pot of Gold beneficiaries’ initials. Irish step dancing also helped to top off the atmosphere at Budweiser Events Center.
“Year after year, it’s become this marquee event for the Eagles around the St. Patrick’s Day holiday that is really a critical day,” said Riches, who has been with the team since its 2003 founding. “And our amazing fans rally behind these families.”
Back in 2012, Eagles owner and chief executive officer Martin Lind came to his front office with an idea. Lind had learned that an officer with the local sheriff’s office had a child who needed a kidney transplant. Roughly a month later, Riches, vice president of communications and broadcasting Kevin McGlue, and the rest of the front office had orchestrated the team’s first-ever Pot of Gold fundraiser.
Said Riches, “It took a very sad situation and a very troubling situation with a family, and said, ‘Hey, let’s turn it into fun and try to leverage Eagles Country to help them.’ And from there, it’s just blossomed.
“The people at the top of the organization, they challenge everyone to make it magnificent for the family.”
By 2020, the Eagles had planned to use the well-established event to benefit the Vogels. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans. In the interim, the team still managed to raise money for the family and hosted a virtual jersey action.
But the Eagles felt they needed to do more still.
As Riches explains it, “We had made this commitment to this family to say, ‘Hey, you know what, Pot of Gold is about so much more than just raising money. It’s about providing experiences for the families to step away for a night, have interactions with players, tell their story, too, because a big part of [the Vogels’] story is they’ve adopted children.
“Kristi and Bryan, they are about as cool a cucumber as you’re going to find. I mean, with everything that’s been thrown at them, they look at it every day as a blessing, and every day is an opportunity. And it’s amazing just how generous they are, how kind they are.
“They’ve taken care of these children, and there’s a need for that in their community. So as much as it is about raising money, it’s also about raising awareness for some of these diseases, some of these opportunities and ways for the community to help beyond just putting money in the pot.”
When the night arrives each year, that is when the fans and players step in to make their contributions.
“Really the reason that people rally behind it is because Eagles Country is just so darn generous,” Riches explained. “It’s the biggest little community that you’re going to find. People care about their neighbors. They care about the stories.”
The players then top off the event for a family like the Vogels and a determined youngster like Jayce.
“This year I thought it was just remarkable what the team did. [Captain] Jayson Megna gave an absolutely spectacular speech before the game,” Riches continued. “After a tough loss on the ice that night, the entire team was out there being kids. I think that’s one thing that’s relatable about the players. They look at it through the eyes of a kid where the most fun you’re going to have out there is when no one’s watching, when you’re just there with your buddies. The players were so incredible, the way that they engaged not only with Jayce, but with the entire family and with each other.
“They knew it was a big night and a special night.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.