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NHL celebrities lace up their skates for Windsor's hockey heritage fundraiser


WINDSOR, N.S. — Although retired from playing professional hockey, the celebrity guests attending Windsor's Long Pond Heritage Classic were more than eager to get back out on the ice and score a few goals.

They were also more than accommodating when it came to autographing merchandise and chatting with fans about the sport they love.

Former Boston Bruins star Ray Bourque, who still holds the record for most career goals, assists, and points for a defenceman in the NHL, two-time Stanley Cup champion Stéphane Richer, Cole Harbour's Joe DiPenta, who was with the Anaheim Ducks when they won their lone Stanley Cup, and Dennis Vial, an enforcer who was known for racking up the penalty minutes while playing with the Ottawa Senators, drew visitors from near and far to Long Pond.

“On my first shift with Ray, he set me up for a goal. He was my idol growing up,” said Andrew Dill, whose family has helped promote Windsor's Long Pond as being the Birthplace of Hockey.

They were also more than accommodating when it came to autographing merchandise and chatting with fans about the sport they love.

Former Boston Bruins star Ray Bourque, who still holds the record for most career goals, assists, and points for a defenceman in the NHL, two-time Stanley Cup champion Stéphane Richer, Cole Harbour's Joe DiPenta, who was with the Anaheim Ducks when they won their lone Stanley Cup, and Dennis Vial, an enforcer who was known for racking up the penalty minutes while playing with the Ottawa Senators, drew visitors from near and far to Long Pond.

“On my first shift with Ray, he set me up for a goal. He was my idol growing up,” said Andrew Dill, whose family has helped promote Windsor's Long Pond as being the Birthplace of Hockey.

Boston Bruins fan Andrew Dill, who is involved with the Long Pond Heritage Classic, spent some quality time with celebrity guest Ray Bourque when the hockey legend visited the Dill Family Farm's site Jan. 21.

“It's just a blessing to have somebody of that magnitude and that calibre – an NHL Hall of Famer, highest scoring defenceman ever – to come play on Long Pond in Windsor, Nova Scotia. It's just amazing; it's surreal,” he said.

“It's a great endorsement for Windsor and our claim as the Birthplace of Hockey. They recognize that. They even research the facts and they know the facts and they're the first ones to say it's hockey's home.”

Bourque, who was a fan favourite at the event, juggled signing autographs with taking shifts on the Long Pond Rebels team.

“I've heard a lot about this tournament from guys that came here in the past and then you hear about the history of this place. It's pretty neat to be part of it,” said Bourque.

For the former NHLers, who played on pristine ice surfaces in usually sold-out stadiums, skating on Long Pond was a nice change, and reminiscent of getting back to their roots.

“It's a little different format – no goalies, no nets – but this is how it all started for us,” said Bourque after playing two games. “Not so much on ponds for me but growing up in Montreal, we had rinks on pretty much every corner and I found myself out there every day with my friends. For me, I think it's how I developed as a player – having the opportunity to get out there as much as I did. It was all outdoors. It brings you back to your childhood and those memories – and they were good ones.”

It was Bourque's, DiPenta's and Richer's first time playing at Long Pond.

Stanley Cup champion Joe DiPenta, of Anaheim Ducks fame, hustles to get the puck during the match up between King's-Edgehill School and The Heat Jan. 21.

“It's a beautiful setting for playing some Canadian hockey. It's kind of what you picture for where the game would have started. It's pretty spectacular,” said DiPenta while watching a young relative play with the Valley Wild.

DiPenta said the wonderful thing about hockey is that anyone, at any age and skill level, can play.

“I'm not much of a goal scorer but I feel like I am out here. They don't have a goalie. It's rejuvenated my confidence in my scoring ability,” said DiPenta with a laugh. “I've enjoyed that.”

The defenceman played 174 NHL games during his career, scoring six goals and registering 17 assists.

During the Jan. 21 event, DiPenta was reunited with a former teammate from his pre-NHL days – Josh Dill, who is now the head coach of the Valley Maple Leafs.

“I think it's a wonderful event for a great cause,” DiPenta said. “I love how it's an intimate event. I like how they've kept it to the integrity of what pond hockey is all about and playing here. I think that's special.”

Richer was a last-minute addition to the line up as Andre 'Moose' Dupont had to cancel his appearance due to an undisclosed illness. Richer said he was more than happy to sub in, and fans of the former Montreal Canadiens player were happy to see him.

Richer, who played 1,054 career NHL games, accumulated 819 points by scoring 421 goals and 398 assists. At 21, he became the youngest Montreal Canadiens player to score 50 goals in a season.

“I grew up playing on a pond like this back home – small town on the farm. For me, it was easy to say yes,” said Richer. “It think it's great. It's one day. You play a few games. You share stories with the boys. We have different stories. I love it.”

The event culminated in a banquet at King's-Edgehill School – the oldest independent school in Canada – and an auction. The money raised at the annual fundraiser goes to preserving hockey history.

Dan Boyd, the communications co-ordinator of the Long Pond Heritage Classic, said the event just keeps growing in popularity and has become an effective means to keep the hockey museum going.

“They have been building in momentum, but this is, without a doubt, the most successful (event) to date,” said Boyd.

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