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Ex-NHLers hit the ice to help out Easter Seals

Local Taylor Pyatt and hall-of-famer Billy Smith among the talent joining forces with local players to raise money for charity.

THUNDER BAY – Taylor Pyatt’s come full circle.

Throughout his National Hockey League career, when Easter Seals rang, he always answered the call,

A fan favourite at their annual celebrity skate, Pyatt would laugh and joke with the children who took part each year, signing autographs and posing for photographs.

On Friday he was back at the Thunder Bay Tournament Centre, taking part in the third annual Easter Seals Celebrity Hockey Tournament, one of 10 former NHLers to lace up his skates one more time and join teams of local pick-up hockey players at a one-day fundraising hockey tournament.

“It’s been great,” said Pyatt, who wound down his NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins 2014 and spent a year in Europe before hanging up his blades for good, retiring to Scottsdale, Ariz.

“This is the third year they’ve run in and the first year I’ve been able to get back to be a part of it. I think I’m the first local player to play in this event. It’s been a fun couple of days. I got drafted to a good team and we’re raising a lot of money.”

Pyatt, who was sporting a Vancouver Canucks, was joined at the event by the likes of former Toronto Maple Leafs captains Rick Vaive and Wendel Clark, former first-round pick Al Iafrate, 400-goal-scorer Steve Thomas, three-time 50-goal scorer John LeClair, Edmonton defenceman, Craig Muni, Montreal and Florida forward Brian Skrudland and three-time Stanley Cup winner Craig Muni, tough guys P.J. Stock and Troy Crowder and legendary New York Islanders goaltender Billy Smith.

Smith, who turns 69 in December, said it’s all about having fun while raising money for Easter Seals.

“It’s for a great cause and they make it entertaining. All the guys here, they all know none of us are going to the NHL, so it’s just laid back and having fun,” said Smith, who backstopped the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1984.

“I do a lot of stuff for Easter Seals. It’s a great way to help out and it’s a great organization.”

Iafrate, a three-time 20-goal scorer as a blue-liner, spent 14 seasons in the NHL, mostly with Toronto and Washington.

He’s more than happy to give back – and it’s not just about being on the ice, the Dearborn, Mich. native said.

It’s also getting to see the money put to good use, helping to send Easter Seals children to camp each summer.

“I got to the camp every year to see the fruits of the labours of all these volunteers and fundraisers and hockey players and sponsors of the tournament. It’s awesome to see the joy on the faces of these kids when they go to these camps,” the 53-year-old said.

Rhonda Harrison, a senior development officer with Easter Seals Ontario in Thunder Bay, said this year’s Celebrity Hockey Classic had already raised more than $93,000, through the support of the participants, raffles and other fundraising initiatives.

“We’re still taking donations today ... so we’re hoping to reach the same amount as last year,” Harrison said. “It’s such a unique opportunity. The draft party last night, that was one experience and then today there are three games of hockey, with an NHLer on your team, hanging out in your locker room and the stories they’re sharing.”

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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