By Matt Popchock
Saturday marked the final weekend of operation for the Beaver County Ice Arena this spring. Four Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League programs based in the county made sure they closed it out with class.
Over 200 patrons filled the arena to watch some of the top players from Beaver, Blackhawk, Central Valley, and Quigley skate in the Beaver County All-Star Hockey Benefit. In addition, the Beaver County Badgers mite team staged an exhibition between periods.
Proceeds from the game will go to the families of 18-year-old Ambridge High School senior Jackie Kennedy and 21-year-old Ambridge alumnus Connor Johnson, both of whom were killed in a car accident on April 10.
“This whole thing came together in 15 days. We were on a tight time frame to get it done,” said event organizer Jamie Dougherty, who was recently named Quigley’s new varsity head coach for the upcoming season.
Dougherty has been involved with the PIHL since joining the Ambridge program during its inaugural season in 1993. That program has since merged with Quigley’s, and Johnson was one of his former players.
“When you see something like this, you’re at a loss for words. You ask, ‘What do I do?’ I know hockey, so I put two and two together,” he said.
According to Dougherty, $2,750 was raised that will be split evenly between the victims’ families.
The idea for a local all-star game was something he had around the time of this year’s PIHL All-Star Event, but he found it difficult to stage. However, when the tragic accident took place, a number of area businesses and school officials helped to finally get the idea off the ground, such as Beaver County Parks and Recreation Director Tom King, who let the programs use the ice free of charge.
“For something like this, it’s good to be back on the ice,” said Central Valley senior forward Tyler Kocis, who was one of this game’s most notable players.
The team captain and PIHL All-Star led Class A with 42 goals during the 2010-11 regular season and guided the Warriors to a Penguins Cup Playoff berth in their first campaign since the Monaca-Center merger. On Saturday, his “White” team, despite being outshot 33-30, came away with a 4-3 victory over the “Dark” team.
“These guys are great. I know a lot of them, and a lot of them are really good players,” he affirmed.
“We have a lot of kids [in Beaver County] who never get a chance to play in an all-star event, because they’re always up against such talented kids,” Dougherty added. “We have decent programs, and they’re growing every year.”
Their charity didn’t end with the final buzzer, either. All the leftover concessions will be given to the Women’s Shelter of Beaver County. Furthermore, Dougherty said the plan is to make the Beaver County All-Star Hockey Benefit an annual event.
“Every year we’ll get together with the families, and find out wherever they want the money to go in the kids’ names.”
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)