This past weekend was the annual Hendrickson Foundation Hockey Festival held at the National Sports Center Super Rink in Blaine, and it was the best one yet! Over 1,000 athletes and their families and supporters from around the country gathered again to prove that the HF's motto of "Hockey Changes Lives" is profoundly accurate, and movingly so.
Everyone in attendance was all smiles all weekend, and behind every smile was a story worthy of an entire article unto itself. I was running around being a volunteer (volunteers keep it all beautifully afloat), but every person I met had a great tale to tell, and I would have loved to have been able to hear them ALL.
There are hockey games going on all weekend, with players from Special Hockey, Blind Hockey, Sled Hockey, and Warriors Hockey (Military Veterans) all vying for the Championship games held on Sunday. Just sitting there and watching all of these incredible, determined athletes playing and interacting with each other is inspirational enough ... but then you get to know some of them a little bit, and it leaves you with the feeling that anything is possible ... with enough support - and that is what the Hendrickson Foundation is giving to this community. It's a truly beautiful thing to behold.
Once you see it all in action, the pull to be involved is pretty strong. Volunteers all really go the extra mile, but how about super volunteer Mae Ricci and her brand new husband, Dan Casazza?! They were just married about a week ago, and asked for no gifts, but instead asked that people donate to the Hendrickson Foundation! And then spent the whole Festival weekend volunteering instead of honeymooning! How absolutely benevolent of them, with such a lovely gesture you could cry.
Then I got to meet the fireball that is Maggie Schuneman (#11!) there to play with her Maple Grove Special Hockey team, who told me she was about to take on Edina with her team. She was a complete delight, and then I later learned that she is the sister of the young man, Sam Schuneman, that was killed last summer in an outrageous drunk driving accident that also killed Max Motzko, the son of the Minnesota Gophers hockey coach. It was a story that deeply touched all Minnesotans.
I later met Maggie's parents, Tom and Yvonne Shuneman. It was clear that the pain they will always feel over the senseless loss of their son is very present, but this special weekend allowed them to watch their darling daughter absolutely beaming, loving being there to play and enjoy her teammates and the friendly competition, as well as to be surrounded by the circle of love that is tangibly felt throughout the festival.
A lot of the competition was happening while we were setting up for the Saturday evening reception, but we were ready in time to check out the Celebrity Game, which was packed to the rafters with participants and fans from the whole range of teams.
This all takes place in the "State of Hockey", so of course the Minnesota Wild was well represented at the Festival by Coach Dean Evason, GM Bill Guerin, Assistant Coach Darby Hendrickson (of course!), Nordy, and The Moose himself, Marcus Foligno.
The teams were formed from several former Wild players and hockey All Stars from all over Minnesota, and the high scoring game was a blast to watch ... but my favorite part of it was getting to know Sevanna and Shane.
Sevanna appeared to be among the biggest celebrities there, as everyone stopped to greet her and get their photo with her during the game. It didn't take long to find out that Sevanna and the young man, Shane, sitting next to her were a new couple, brought together through their playing in the Sled Hockey program. They've only been dating a few weeks, but they were both adorably excited about it, and determined to not let their geographical differences (he's from Wisconsin, she's from Bloomington) get in their way. She was dying to meet former Wild goalie, Alex Staylock, as he was the only person left on her list to meet - I so hope that she did.
There was a Sled Hockey demo race in between periods of the Celebrity Game, and I am very happy to report that Wild /Twins announcer and our lovely friend, Audra Martin, redeemed herself from last Festival impressively, winning the race by a long shot.
While being congratulated for her victory, she explained how this is one of her favorite events of the year, and wouldn't dream of missing it. And that's how everyone felt.
Everyone heads to the reception after the game, and the hall was full of Festival folks celebrating a great day while enjoying food donated by Famous Dave's and drinks donated by Invictus Brewery.
A vast Silent Auction was set up with a slew of items to bid on to benefit HF, and keep this joy going on long into the future.
The party spilled outside where there was a mobile Polar Plunge to raise even more for the HF mission of bringing hockey to everyone who wants to play.
People mingled around playing bean bags, games, dancing around to the D.J., and there was even a makeshift ice rink outside for kids to play on in the sunshine.
This is the rare event where people actually enjoy listening to some speeches and acknowledgements, and there were special awards being given out from Yontz Valor, another huge sponsor of the Festival. The "Valor Salute" goes to individuals who exemplify the values of the Yontz Foundation of leadership, kindness, work ethic, and giving others hope in adversity. This year the recipients were led by the HF's own Kristin Hendrickson, who somehow manages to keep all of these teams straight. Well deserved!
Of course, none of this happens without the huge help of super generous sponsors. Yontz Valor, Hydrite, Milk Specialties Global, Cambria, and The Humble Goat (the MOST delicious goat cheese, People!) are the leading sponsors (in addition to loads more you can see on the HF website), and our excellent friends Carole Olson (Cambria) and Frankie and Dave Lenzmeier (Milk Specialties and The Humble Goat) were all there to represent and volunteer and host and enjoy all the fruits of their extensive labor.
HF Executive Director, Danny Hendrickson, was probably the biggest celebrity there, if you were asking the players. They all wanted to meet him, and they all love him, because he is the front man for this entire experience, taking over where their dad, Larry Hendrickson, left off with this wonderful endeavor that he would be so, SO proud of.
It's really hard to get a photo of all the Hendricksons and their families together at the Festival, as they are so involved in so many ways, but I'll take this opportunity to thank them all on behalf of everyone involved in the HF Hockey Festival. What they're doing is special, and important. You can see the evidence of this after being in attendance for 5 minutes. They've helped so many people through their family foundation, and it chokes me up to think about, never mind write about. As the eldest child of Larry and Jane Hendrickson, Christine is not only my BFF, but the one who steers me around to introduce me to all these overwhelmingly touching stories. We're all Richfield Spartans, so the weekend also ends up being one big blast of a reunion every year too. Bonus!
The Festival ends on Sunday with the championship games, and I know it means a LOT to the teams to get their special HF trophies (this year a Game of Thrones looking sword cool one!) for winning their games, but to be real honest ... it's very clear that everyone won - just for being there.
You cannot leave this event without being a little changed, and a lot inspired. Watching these athletes in action, and having seen this foundation grow from just an idea talked about in Larry's basement to what this Festival has become, let's you know that truly anything is possible, with a little help from your friends. And your family, because this is absolutely one giant family now.
I can't wait to hear more stories in the coming years ... because there needs to be a movie now too, right?
Long live the Hendy Foundation!
*Stay tuned to their website linked above to participate in future events, donate, learn, and shop!
**Additional photos courtesy of Julie Hendrickson Oss