Wins have been hard to come by for the Fredericton Riverview Ford Caps minor bantam AAA hockey team this season - on the ice, at least. But last Friday night, at the Odell Park Lodge, the 17 teenagers who play for the team, the coaching staff and parents got an even better feeling. They helped. For three hours, from setup to cleanup, it was Christmas for the Caps and their company. Rather than hold their own team Christmas party, the Caps opened the doors and opened their hearts to some 70 needy people in the Fredericton area. They served a spaghetti dinner - parent Francois Lavert's famous spaghetti sauce was the topper - and gave warm clothing and other personal items to their dinner guests. Santa arrived and delivered presents to about 10 youngsters, ranging in age from about four months to 17 years old. "We all had fun, and I guess the visitors had fun too," said 13-year-old Venel Campbell, one of the team's two captains. "We had a secret Santa, we had music, and they even got a hot, warm dinner." Campbell and co-captain Matthew Waugh greeted the guests as they came to the door. "As they came in, we'd just greet them and ask them how their day was going ... try to make them feel at home and tell them to have a good time," said Waugh.
Their teammates served heaping plates of spaghetti, rolls and other fixings. Campbell was on cheese duty. Oh, and he got to play with a three-year-old and the Play-Doh that Santa brought. "It was fun to give instead of take," said 13-year-old Matthew Waugh, who wears the captain's C at home games. "We have a chance to play hockey and we have a house and have a place to sleep. For us to take a little bit of time out of our day to give to them ...for us, that's not a big thing. But that could be the highlight of their month. So it was nice." Angella Price, a nurse who is also a co-owner of Price Auto Sales along with her husband Rikki Price, took a lead role in organizing the event. Herson Jack is one of the players on the bantam team. He said grace. Last year, when he played for the Peewee AAA Canadiens, the team served some 50 needy people. This one was that much bigger and that much better. Three musicians from the Sunset Church congregation played seasonal and spiritual music. Riverview Ford Lincoln owner Nick McCarthy, the team sponsor, stepped in to buy supplies for care packages, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, toiletries, hand and foot warmers, soap, oranges, and warm socks. Kevin Agar of Joico came through with shampoo. Each of the boys wrote a hand-written note and signed it with their hockey number. Parents pitched in to provide the food and desserts and donated some 40 bags of warm clothing to outfit the needy. Leftover items were donated to Value Village. "It was amazing again," Price said. "It really reaffirmed the Christmas spirit for me. I wish I could articulate the feeling people felt there. It really is what Christmas is all about for me." She presented it as a team-building activity at a meeting early in the season, "and they were all over it." she said. "We do a sign-up list of everything that we need, from extension chords to crock pots to dish soap." It was head coach Sean O'Connor's first experience with the event. "I thought it was great," he said. "Sometimes when you play hockey, you're kind of in your privileged little bubble and it's hard to understand or realize how lucky you are. I think it was a good opportunity for them to get a different perspective on life. It was really awesome to see. It was amazing." He remembered a scene where "there were probably 10 of our guys huddled around this one kid playing with the toy he had got," said O'Connor. "It was kind of a genuine moment where kids were being kids." "I was getting that feeling from the kids that they get it that they can make a difference," said Price. Nineteen-year-old Khoury Fraser was a guitarist and singer who entertained that night. Fraser and his bandmates played almost non-stop for 21 ⁄2 hours, breaking only briefly to enjoy the spaghetti supper. He didn't mind. "Oh man, it was awesome," he said. "It was really rewarding, what we were doing it for. Sometimes you go to different music things, and it's fun. But when you know you're doing it for the right cause and the right people, it's even better." One man joined the band. "He was an older guy, and you could tell he was loving it," said Fraser. "He'd come up and wanted to sing with us and get us to sing different songs with him. He was dancing around and he grabbed a shaker and trying to join in with us. You could tell from the reactions on their faces ... they enjoyed it." Fraser and his friends agreed. "We all walked away talking about how awesome it was...it was great, honestly." Jody Peterson and his wife Julie dropped by the lodge before going to their own Christmas party. They found it an uplifting experience. "To see the kids cheering and clapping and being enthusiastic to give back ... it was pretty overwhelming," he said. "It gave my wife and I goosebumps as we were watching it take place. It was one of the most powerful things I've seen with respect to young athletes in the community. "You could tell it was well received. Everybody seemed to be having fun and enjoying the atmosphere. You could tell the kids were enjoying it, and I'm sure that went a long way to making the families feel comfortable. It was so well done and so warm." "I wasn't sure if the kids were going to be shy or standoffish or whatever," said O'Connor. "But they were right up there thanking people and serving people. It was really awesome." "If we were to do it again next week, I think they'd want to do it again," said team manager John Tobin. Matthew's mom, Rachel Waugh, was proud of her son and his teammates. "He gets it that he's very fortunate that he doesn't have to worry about where he gets to sleep at night and if he's going to get a meal that night," she said. "When he came home that night, he said 'I get it, that we see people on the sidewalk sometimes asking for change. But these were families ...moms and dads with kids and little babies. He said 'So what happens when they don't have milk?' It's so important for them to understand that it's important to be, but it's also important to give." "Twenty years from now, these kids will look back and maybe remember that we inspired them, not only to play hockey but to be good gentlemen as well," said Tobin. "I've been at this a long time. Wins and losses are important, but doing stuff like on Friday night is important for the kids as well." Maybe it's karma. Saturday, the Caps, who had one win to that point in the season, travelled to Quispamsis and beat the first place Saint John Sea Dogs 5-1.Campbell had one of the goals. "You think you're doing this for other people," said Price. "But the person who gets the biggest blessing is you."