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Dawg Nation Helps Hockey Players in Colorado

10/23/2013, 3:30pm CDT
By John Tranchina - Special to USAHockey.com

Johnny Plover had nowhere else to go for help, especially after taking the desperate step of selling his beloved hockey equipment to a pawn shop. That’s when the Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation stepped in and changed this two-time Purple Heart recipient’s life.

Not even three years old, the 501c3 non-profit charitable organization set up in 2011 by Martin Richardson, based in the Denver area, has already raised more than $375,000 and provided relief to more than 20 hockey-playing adults and their families, including Plover, a former U.S. Army soldier who was seriously wounded in Iraq.

“I had no idea what they were about to do,” Plover said. “[Richardson] got some of the board of directors together in the locker room before the game. He told them about my situation, and the outpouring of emotion was unbelievable.

“And he handed me a check for almost $3,000, all this cash to get caught up and get a quality of life back — not only play hockey but get a quality of life back. They’ve improved my quality of life quite a bit. It’s hard to put into words. I was completely floored, I was speechless.”

Not only did Dawg Nation help provide Plover, who was struggling financially, an opportunity to play on one of the group’s hockey teams, but it set him up with enough money to get back on his feet, as well as a job interview with one of its members, who subsequently hired him.

“That guy is frickin’ amazing,” said Richardson, who is also known as “Cappy” or “the Dawgfather.” “He was literally blown up and told he should be dead. He was deaf and he was blind for a week and they didn’t know if that was going to come back, but it did. That story sounds fake when you read it, it’s too Hollywood, but it’s true. At the end of the day, for us, we have a lot of survivors.”

As Richardson notes, Plover overcame severe injuries, including a broken neck that required a plate, discs and screws to be surgically implanted to stabilize the area, when his Humvee was blown up by a suicide bomber in Iraq. Even though doctors told him he’d never play hockey again, he used that as motivation to get better during a year of difficult rehab.

That’s why, just three years after getting back on the ice again, it was so hard to accept that he couldn’t afford to play any more, and why Dawg Nation’s efforts were so well-appreciated.

“You have to get past the pride thing, being a former soldier and all,” Plover said. “I’ve always said the true measure of a man is knowing when to ask for help and I was down to it. I had nowhere else to turn. I didn’t know what I was going to do. The week before, I had to pawn my hockey equipment so I could get 100 bucks. That’s how bad it was.”

Plover is just one of many people whose lives have been greatly enhanced by the Dawg Nation.

There’s Cody Beekman, a young hockey player who was paralyzed in a car accident a while back. Dawg Nation completely refurbished Beekman’s home to make it wheelchair accessible, including adding ramps, new floors and wider doorways, as well as purchasing him a new handicap van and helping with his rehab costs.

Kim McLeod was suffering from terminal cancer and given six weeks to live when Dawg Nation entered his life. Feeling a bit of a renewed purpose, McLeod went on to survive another 15 months immersed in Dawg Nation activities before finally succumbing to the disease.

“Someone who plays adult hockey, and if something traumatic happens to that family, then we, Dawg Nation, reach out to them and help that family,” Richardson said. “Our rule is you have to be in the Rocky Mountain Valley, but we may change that if we keep growing like we have.”

Dawg Nation relies on three major charity fundraisers per year to generate most of its revenue — a golf tournament (Tee it up for Dawg Nation), an adult hockey tournament (the Dawg Bowl) and a comedy night (Stand up for Dawg Nation), in which comedians perform at a local comedy club that donates all of the gate money.

The group also holds a slew of smaller events, such as their Survivor Game at the Pepsi Center on Oct. 15, on Hockey Fights Cancer Night prior to the Colorado Avalanche’s matchup with the Dallas Stars. Plover, the epitome of a survivor, was scheduled to play that night.

“We wanted to do something special for the adult hockey players in the community, men or women, that have overcome severe injury or illness,” Richardson explained. “Some of them are not survivors yet, they’re in the midst of their battle, but the whole idea was to get all these people together that have something in common. The people in the midst of their battle, they draw off of that support. Most of them are cancer survivors, so it’s really tied in to the Hockey Fights Cancer Night, but we have a few other interesting people playing that night.”

Originally, the team was just the Junkyard Dawgs, one adult hockey team that started at the Edge Ice Arena in Littleton, Colo. Now the Dawgs ice about nine teams at three different rinks around the Denver area. Richardson was inspired to start the foundation in order to honor a close friend, who used to dress next to him in the locker room but then passed away three years ago due to an autoimmune disease.

“He was very similar to me, we had tons in common,” Richardson said of his buddy. “He was the guy that everyone strives to be, he was just happy to play hockey and when he died, I thought I would do something in Jack’s honor.”

The foundation’s entire board, including Richardson, are all volunteers, putting in many hours of hard work just for the joy of helping people. As the Dawgfather puts it, any money they would receive as salary is instead routed directly to the deserving recipients.

“I have a waiting list for my board, by the way,” Richardson said. “We haven’t figured out how to get grants yet, but we’re getting there.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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