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2014-07-25 at 17:20

Hockey Celebrity Golf Classic continues to raise money for local charities

By Matt Vis,
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THUNDER BAY -- One of the city’s most established hockey charity golf tournament has no plans to slow down.

The Freedom 55 Financial Thunder Bay Hockey Celebrity Golf Classic, which has raised nearly $400,000 in its history, held the ninth annual edition of the tournament at the Whitewater Golf Course on Friday.

The lineup of local hockey celebrities included current National Hockey League players such as Nashville Predators goaltender Carter Hutton, Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Robert Bortuzzo, Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal and free agent forward Tom Pyatt as well as visiting friends of Hutton’s, Florida Panthers forward Brandon Pirri and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Ryan Stanton.

While the lineup might not be quite as illustrious as in years’ past, event chairman Tom Mihaljevic insists the tournament is here to stay.

“This year we have more celebrities than we have teams. Most, if not all, look forward to our event and would not miss it for the world,” Mihaljevic said.

There were 28 hockey celebrities which also included retired NHLers, current U.S. college players as well as current and past members of the Lakehead Thunderwolves program.

The golf tournament culminates a busy week of appearances for local hockey players, after the Thunder Bay Kings’ alumni game and the Skate for Easter Seals, with those events held Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

The three events have coordinated to put their events in quick succession to maximize the turnout of players.

Hutton has become one of the faces of the event with the Staal brothers already involved with the PGA Tour Canada’s Staal Foundation Open, a tournament that held its inaugural edition at Whitewater last week that included a pro-am component.

“I’m a born and raised Thunder Bay boy and I come home in the summer. Thunder Bay is still home to me,” Hutton said. “Being part of anything like this that stays local is huge.”

The money raised from the tournament is donated to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Exceptional Cancer Care campaign.

It is a cause that Hutton says “hits home.”

“I’ve had a lot of people in my close and immediate family who have been affected by cancer so helping cancer funding in Thunder Bay is huge,” he said. “Moving forward you want to see things improve here and continue to raise money to help it.”

For many of the players the event has become their annual summer tradition, even predating their NHL success.

Remembering their first bit of recognition might be a big reason why they continue to participate.

“Many of those players were just breaking into the NHL so for them it was a great honour to be asked nine years ago,” Mihaljevic said. “I think there’s a sense of wanting to go because when we were young we were supportive of the cause.”

Bortuzzo has been involved for at least the past four years, which goes back to his days before he reached Pittsburgh.

“I think my first couple of years I was just playing in Kitchener and the minors. It’s a great event come out and lend your time to,” Bortuzzo said.

“I’m really not surprised it’s been going on and been so successful ever year.”

Mihaljevic estimates this year’s version will raise between $40,000 and $50,000.

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