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Charity tournament with ex-NHLers seeks to raise $1.6 million for Alzheimer’s

Put together a hockey tournament, set fundraising minimums for teams to get in, give the club that raises the most money first pick of a host of former NHLers, and then drop the puck.

Mike Bossy, Paul Coffey, Gilbert Perreault, Wendel Clark and Borje Salming are among the stars on board for the Baycrest International Pro-Am Hockey Tournament, which runs April 27-28 at York University in Toronto with a goal of raising $1.6 million for Alzheimer's research.

"In order to qualify a team has to raise a minimum of $25,000 or an individual can register to play if they raise a minimum of $2,000," Baycrest Foundation president Mark Gryfe told a news conference Thursday. "While that sounds like a lot of money to raise, it really isn't."

Last year's event raised $800,000 for Alzheimer's research at Baycrest, which focuses on brain function and mental health related to aging. With space for 40 teams - 33 spots have already been filled with groups from across Canada - there are hopes this year's total might surpass $2 million.

"This is unique and it's a model you can transfer," said Paul Beeston, the former Toronto Blue Jays president who now sits on Baycrest's board. "There are people out there who are playing with their heroes. You can leave a memory, you can leave a photo, you can leave an autograph and at the same time raise money for charity. How can you beat it?"

For the participants, it's a donation experience like few others.

It starts with a draft party the night before the tournament, during which each team gets to select its alumni player. The selection order for the first 20 teams is determined by who raises the most money, with the remaining players and squads matched up by random draw to avoid hurt feelings.

"I know nobody signs up to play with Mike Pelyk," quipped Pelyk, the NHL Alumni Association's vice-chair.

But the likes of Doug Gilmour, Dale Hawerchuk, Bernie Nicholls and Bryan Trottier certainly have some pull. Clark says teams need to choose their NHLer carefully.

"You guys who are drafting the players have to be sharp. You get to see guys dressed in suits and some of us are 185 (pounds) and others are 330," said Clark, looking fit in a flashy black blazer and white dress shirt. "It makes a difference in your drafting that day."

The action begins the next day with each team guaranteed at least three games.

Participants are categorized by skill level in age divisions of 30-plus, 35-plus, 40-plus, 50-plus and 55-plus. There's no contact, good news for anyone heading into a corner with Clark, and no slapshots, a relief for the goalies who have to face down Bossy.

"The alumni are just out there to have fun with the people," said Clark. "You want to play in a safe way and have fun and make sure everyone is having fun."

And that's what separates the event from the typical golf tournament or banquet fundraiser, says NHL alumni executive director Mark Napier. There's lots of good times to go with the type of competitive spirit that drives many of the participants to succeed in their day jobs.

"There are some fundraisers out there who can write a cheque anytime they want for anything but I think they all like to win," said Napier, whose father-in-law was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer's by Baycrest doctors. "So by being the No. 1 fundraiser and getting the first draft pick makes it a little special for you."


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