Packing them in for a cause

by Jim Charshafian || AHL On The Beat Archive  

Last year, the San Antonio Rampage held an event for the first time that met unprecedented success. Not only did a multitude of fans come out to support the Rampage, but they also came out in droves to stand behind an even larger cause: breast cancer awareness.

The Rampage’s inaugural Pink in the Rink Night last January attracted a franchise-record 14,339 fans to the AT&T Center and raised $25,000 for the San Antonio Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Now, the team is ready to hold the event a second time, with this year’s Pink in the Rink Night set to be played on Friday, Feb. 3, when the Rampage host the Lake Erie Monsters.

The ice will be dyed pink once again and the team will don pink sweaters to promote the cause. As was the case following last season’s contest, the Rampage will auction off the players’ jerseys after the game and proceeds will benefit Komen San Antonio.

“It’s great to get involved with a cause like Komen that’s so meaningful and does so many good things in the community,” said Ryan Snider, director of hockey business operations with the Rampage. “It’s a win-win all the way around. Our players, our coaches, and our fans all get behind it, so it turns out to be a wonderful event.

“Almost everyone has been affected by cancer in one way or another and any time we can have an event with a cause like this behind it, it’s terrific.”

Rampage captain Nolan Yonkman, who played in last year’s game, echoed Snider’s thoughts.

“We all have an awareness of the situation in our own families,” said Yonkman. “There are some players who are affected by it but there’s also fans who are affected by it, too. This is the least we can do to show our support and let all the women out there know that we’re behind them.”

San Antonio goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris believes that Pink in the Rink Night is just as important to the players as it is to the fans.

“It means a lot to us because we feel we’re contributing outside of the entertainment factor as a hockey player,” said Grumet-Morris. “It also helps the community know that we are aware of the other things that are going on and we can use our position within the community to reach out and bring different parties together to work toward a positive cause like ‘Pink In the Rink’. I think that’s a big step the Rampage have taken.”

For San Antonio center Bracken Kearns, who took part in last year’s Survivor Skate (set to be held again this Tuesday), the entire week leading up to Pink in the Rink Night is special.

“I remember skating around with breast cancer survivors and getting to know them,” said Kearns. “Most of them were cancer-free and it was just nice to see how happy they were. I think they really enjoyed going for a skate with us and we really enjoyed their company.”

This season, the Rampage have committed their efforts to selling out the arena for Friday’s game. Snider, who began planting the seeds for Pink in the Rink Night with Komen San Antonio three years ago, feels that the fan support is there to accomplish the feat.

“I wouldn’t say I was shocked,” Snider said of last year’s success, “but the support was overwhelming. We thought the turnout was going to be very good and it put a thought into our heads that, ‘Hey, when we do this next year, we can sell this game out.’”

Rampage head coach Chuck Weber has been around AT&T Center crowds for over half a season now and, after seeing so many faces at the rink throughout the year, he expects a large turnout on Friday.

“Our fan support this year has been fantastic,” said Weber. “Ryan and his staff have done a great job of filling the seats here and this will be a continuation of their efforts. I know the guys love playing in front of large crowds and anytime you can get a large number of people in this building it makes for a fun environment.”

Holding the event in the winter has benefitted both Komen San Antonio and the Rampage, as the hockey club has been able to make January and February exciting months during a usually slow period for the nonprofit organization.

“We kind of got lucky last year,” said Snider. “We picked the date for the game to be in January because we have to melt the ice down anyway with the rodeo coming in [which occupies the AT&T Center every February], but in retrospect, it turned out to be the perfect time of year. Komen is busy in October because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and they’re busy in April and May because of their walk for breast cancer event [Race for the Cure]. Sandwiched halfway in-between is January and February, where they don’t have a lot going on. So ‘Pink in the Rink’ has become their big awareness event here, locally. We fell into that, but now, it makes perfect sense to hold it during this time.”

For Grumet-Morris and the rest of the Rampage players, there’s nothing they’d enjoy more than being able to play in front of a packed house on Friday.

“It’s a wonderful atmosphere to be apart of,” he said. “For the fans, it’s killing two birds with one stone: coming to see a great hockey game and raising money for cancer research. Hopefully, we can give them a win as well.”