Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
Chris Kelos putts Thursday on the 18th green at Whitewater Golf Course during the Thunder Bay Freedom 55 Hockey Celebrity Golf Classic.
Ryan Johnson has a pretty good reason to tee it up each year at the Thunder Bay Celebrity Hockey Golf Classic.
The event, which raises money for cancer research, hits close to his heart.
Johnson’s father Jim, a well known name in local hockey circles who help re-start the Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey team in 2001, died from the disease a few years ago.
Johnson, who retired from the Chicago Blackhawks after the 2010-11 season, said it’s easy for players like himself to give back to the Thunder Bay community.
It’s important, Johnson said.
“It was beforehand and it certainly is now. Everybody is going to be touched through this disease and everybody has a tie to it in some way. Ours happens to be through our dad and it means a lot for us to be able to contribute any way we can,” said Johnson, who now calls Florida home.
“Besides the obvious cause that we’re playing for, it’s the people. That’s what makes Thunder Bay what it is, is the people. We spend so much time traveling and away from our hometown, that the opportunity to come back, we obviously circle this on our calendar to be able to spend some time with the people conversing.”
Tom Mihaljovic, chairman of the Thunder Bay Freedom 55 Celebrity Hockey Classic, said the continued NHL player support of the event, now in its eighth year, speaks volumes of how people view the Northern Cancer Fund.
“They’ve been so gracious of their time and energy and they get to mingle with the community and show everyone they are real people. They’re just like you and I and I’m very honoured to have them come out and support this event,” he said.
Once again Freedom 55 has partnered with Tim Hortons to send local children to camp, and will donate money for every goal Thunder Bay’s NHL contingent scores.
“We’re lucky to do that and we want to help create that enthusiasm if you will and help needy children as well,” Mihaljovic said.
Glenn Craig, president and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, said the $230,000 the tournament has raised over eight years have been a major help to the organization and the work it’s trying to do.
The Regional Cancer Centre serves all of Northwestern Ontario he added, and every little bit helps.
“We have a really good cancer centre, but their goal is to become exceptional. These funds will help buy the equipment and fund the programs to make that vision possible,” Craig said.
“We really appreciate this year, especially, with summer vacation being a bit shorter, it just shows that these fellows haven’t forgotten where they’ve come from.”
Johnson was joined by current NHLers Robert Bortuzzo, Carter Hutton, Marc, Jared and Jordan Staal and Taylor Pyatt, to name just a few of the hockey celebrities on hand.