Monday, 11 January 2016

Prominent programs south of the border show admirable support for DIFD


As the stigma towards mental health continues to diminish, the women’s hockey community has shown a remarkable support in raising awareness. Most recently, a cause that has occupied a special place in the hearts and minds of players and fans alike is Do It for Daron (DIFD).

The Ottawa-based cause commemorates the life of the late Daron Richardson, daughter of former NHLer Luke Richardson. Having sadly taken her own life, the Ottawa hockey community was extremely distraught, with thousands of fans appearing at a celebration of her life at Scotiabank Place, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.

While DIFD has become an essential aspect of the Ottawa hockey community, with numerous teams, male and female, participating in fund raising games, including the Senators, the cause has also taken on importance in the Eastern United States.

Upon graduating from high school and winning a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, Morgan Richardson, Daron’s older sister, enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, extending her career with the prestigious Big Red program. Considering that the Senators American Hockey League affiliate is based in nearby Binghamton, New York, Luke Richardson took on the head coaching position for the club, keeping family very close.

In an admirable show of support, DIFD would become the focus of annual fund raising matches for both the Binghamton Senators and the Big Red women’s hockey program. As the Ivy League’s Big Red competes in the ECAC Conference, it also raised awareness of another accomplished player from a generation ago whose star burned out far too soon.

A three-sport star with the Dartmouth Big Green, including women’s hockey, Sarah Devens had taken her own life in 1995, enduring her own struggles. Since then, the Sarah Devens Award is named in her honor. With the advent of DIFD, it reminded many ECAC fans about Devens and the potential that she possessed. Both have served as inspirations for others to speak out and gain assistance, looking to preserve life.

This season, DIFD gained support from two other women’s hockey teams in the United States, helping to highlight the cause of mental health in other regions. Of note, the Princeton Tigers, another Ivy League school, would emulate Cornell’s dedication to DIFD and hosted their own charitable night on December 12, 2015 at Hobey Baker Rink.

Competing against Penn State, Princeton would prevail by a hard fought 3-2 tally as Jaimie McDonnell logged the game winning goal. Other goals were scored by Kelsey Koelzer and Morgan Sly, while Karlie Lund provided a solid two-assist effort. Goaltender Alysia DaSilva would gain her third win of the season for the Tigers.

In addition, the NWHL’s Boston Pride held a DIFD night as well, the first time that such support was shown in professional women’s hockey. Hosting the New York Riveters at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center on January 10, 2016, it was part of a memorable weekend that also saw the Connecticut Whale host a fundraiser for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.

Participating in the ceremonial faceoff were two of Daron's closest friends. Both competing at the NCAA level, Rebecca Leslie (who recently won a gold medal at the 2016 Nations Cup) of the BU Terriers, and Harvard's Jess Harvey embodies the proud spirit of DIFD. As a side note, the Pride held a 50/50 raffle along with a silent auction, with half of the proceeds going to DIFD.
Four second period goals would provide a comfortable lead for the Pride, who went on to prevail by an 8-1 tally as Riveters goaltenders Nana Fujimoto and Jenny Scrivens were unable to stop the high powered offense. Jillian Dempsey would score twice and gain an assist, dedicating her two goal effort to teammate Denna Laing, still in hospital after crashing into the boards at the Women’s Winter Classic. As a side note, Bray Ketchum, who was loaned to the Pride for the Classic, was back in action with the Riveters, scoring the club’s only goal of the game.
With the iconic DIFD purple heart logo prominent, the NWHL’s support of DIFD was a strong point of pride for two members of the Pride roster. Alyssa Gagliardi and Lauren Slebodnick had played with Morgan Richardson at Cornell, taking to the ice in several fund raising games for DIFD throughout the seasons.

The opportunity to extend that legacy into professional women’s hockey speaks volumes about how meaningful the cause is. The heartfelt efforts of DIFD and its supporting players represent a remarkable collaboration and outpouring of compassion that has defined so many female competitors as proud hockey humanitarians.

Princeton image obtained from: https://twitter.com/pwih?lang=en

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