All about the kids

We all have dreams, and we’re told to follow them. We encourage children to work hard and to do everything they can to make their dreams come true.

Yet we also know that we all need some help along the way. Mats Zuccarello had help. Even Henrik Lundqvist had help. And to make sure they can, in turn, help others, they joined forces and put together Summer Classic, an outdoor charity game at Ullevaal, Norway’s national stadium.

Most of the times we focus solely on winners and losers. We get frustrated about video review and may lose our temper when the wrong team wins. Radio and TV shows, websites, and magazines are full of pundits who argue back and forth about trades, possible trades, crucial – we think – rule changes and forget what the game looks like from a younger person’s perspective.

It’s a more fun perspective.

The Summer Classic that featured 20 NHLers, including Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman, Zuccarello’s former linemates Carl Hagelin and Derrick Brassard, World Champions Loui Eriksson, Filip Forsberg, William Nylander, and Mattias Ekholm, and the Boston Bruins giant Zdeno Chara, as well as two former NHL greats (and Sweden’s national heroes) in Peter Forsberg and Daniel Alfredsson, was all about fun, and giving back.

While it would be easy for a jaded writer to lament the lack of speed in a charity game, it was probably healthier to enjoy being in the presence of the stars, and giggle when Lundqvist pushed the net off its moorings when Zuccarello got a breakaway.

“Did you see that? That was funny!” exclaimed a delighted Hilda Arhammar Pakarinen, a 12-year-old girl who was in the stands with her father, having traveled to Oslo from Sollentuna, Sweden the day before. (Full disclosure: the writer of this piece is the father).

“Are you allowed to do that?”

No, you’re not – which is why it was funny. The referee called a penalty shot, Zuccarello scored on Lundqvist, and the Ullevaal Stadium erupted in applause. (Even fans in Lundqvist T-shirts can’t help but like the affable Norwegian).

Between 2014 and 2017, Mats Zuccarello’s annual All-Star Games in Stavanger raised more than €750,000 for charity. This year, they probably have to add a zero to the total as the Summer Classic drew almost 20,000 fans.

“The Ullevaal Stadion suggested taking the game to Norway’s national arena. Mats then asked Henrik to co-host the event with him,” says Zuccarello’s Norwegian manager Kevin Skabo.

In the end, the event was hosted by the Zuccarello Foundation, the Lundqvist foundation, and Right To Play, an organization founded in 2000 by Johann Olav Koss, who won four Olympic gold medals in speed skating in 1992 and 1994. Zuccarello is one of Right To Play’s ambassadors, and he has, for example, visited Tanzania several times as part of Right to Play’s team.

“[The visits have been] very humbling, inspiring and motivating. I do a lot of charity work during the off season, and I always cherish the experiences of being in the field,” Zuccarello says.

In the summer, the Zuccarello Foundation hosts two summer camps for fifty children who might not have their summer break filled with activities otherwise. The Norwegian star is very involved with the work of his foundation, personally selecting the recipients of the backing of the Zuccarello Foundation.

“When visiting the camps, Mats always gets more involved than expected at these official visits, and he may, for example, go back to the camp to hang out with the kids at their disco. He always finds some kids to bond with,” Skabo says.

“Being around kids, he is a natural motivator and leader, and the kids love him, not just because he is a celebrity in sports, but because he acknowledges each individual,” he adds.

The Henrik Lundqvist Foundation, founded by Henrik and his wife, Therese Lundqvist, isn’t as focused on sports, and instead, “strives to create positive change in the lives of children and adults throughout the world through education and health services”, helping sick children in North America and Sweden.

And what could be better than helping others by having fun while entertaining 20,000 people in the stands.

The Summer Classic was a good four-hour show that included a short youth hockey game between Swedish and Norwegian kids, a celebrity game interrupted by a short game by players in sumo wrestler costumes, and a show by Norwegian duo Madcon, backed up by more than a hundred young dancers – each element filled with memorable moments that brought smiles to people’s faces.

Like when Tomas Brolin, one of Sweden’s soccer heroes, a member of the 1994 team that took bronze in the World Cup, kicked a knee-high pass to himself, showing he’s still got the touch. Or when Erik Mortvedt, a Norwegian rapper, showed some wild dance moves on his way to the dressing room.

But of course, there was some prestige in winning the main event between Team Henke and Team Zucca. Even though Zuccarello was the star of the game, scoring four goals at home, at least Hilda Arhammar Pakarinen – wearing a Rangers T-shirt with “Lundqvist” on the back – cheered wildly for Team Henke, and she was overjoyed when the Rangers’ star’s team rallied back from a two-goal deficit to a 10-7 win.

“Maybe next year they’ll play in Gothenburg, Henke’s hometown?” she said.

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