Healing through hockey
Community comes together for Dakota's Mastronardi
Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman John Blum puts his arm around Utica Eisenhower senior forward Andrew Dunn April 30 following a charity game at Fraser Hockeyland. A group of local high school All-Stars took on the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association to raise funds for Macomb Dakota junior Anthony Mastronardi.
Posted April 30, 2017
FRASER — Nearly five months after suffering a spinal cord injury in the Macomb Dakota hockey home opener, Anthony Mastronardi returned to the ice.
A standing-room only crowd at Fraser Hockeyland roared April 30 as Mastronardi utilized his power wheelchair to participate in a ceremonial puck drop before a charity game in his honor.
"All of this means the world, I love it," Mastronardi said, fighting back tears. "Seeing all these people coming out, all because they want to help me. I truly, truly appreciate everything about tonight."
The contest pitted a group of local high school All-Stars against the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association. All of the proceeds from the event went to Mastonardi's family as he continues physical therapy.
The Dakota junior spent every single day after the tragic accident at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan before finally returning home April 11. Mastronardi was thrilled to be able to reconnect with numerous teammates, family and friends in the hockey community.
"From December 3rd where I could not move at all to now almost having half my body back, I am thankful and blessed," Mastronardi said. "I am getting to move my arms around some and just being able to come here to thank everyone, it's really special. This night just shows me that I need to keep pushing, because I know all these people have my back."
While the former Red Wings bested the prep players 6-4, the affair was light-hearted and fun for a good cause. Dakota, Utica Eisenhower, Warren De La Salle and Port Huron Northern were all represented, taking on a group that included Dino Ciccarelli and Joe Kocur.
"This is just a very exciting game to be a part of," said Dakota forward Carson Lulich. "It means a lot to be able to help out a teammate, especially because we're all a family. We'd do anything for Anthony."
"It is very exciting playing guys you grew up watching," added Ike forward Zak Hamilton. "You want to try and score, but then you don't because you're playing these older guys that you're just in awe of."
With every spot taken in the 4,000-seat arena — and plenty more watching from the concourse — the crowd cheered after each goal by either team.
"This is just a great experience, because I know a lot of these kids from hockey before high school," said De La Salle forward Gregory Pine. "It's fun to get together, put rivalries aside and help out a fellow player.”
Skating in his first game since the Pilots Division 3 state title victory, Pine admitted he was a bit starstruck at the opponent.
"Being out there against a guy like Ciccarelli, he's a legend, so it's very cool to be out there with him for an amazing cause," Pine said. "We're not trying to go too hard because of how old they are, but we don't want to get embarrassed."
An inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010, Ciccarelli notched 608 goals and 592 assists in a storied career. He spent four years with the Red Wings and still resides in the area, saying he is always happy to help out a local family.
"This is especially good for me, because I live and own some restaurants around here, so it is great to be able to give back to this area," Ciccarelli said. "This is a ball for us, because we get to come back out and skate, and at the same time help out this kid through a tough situation. This is a tremendous turnout by the fans, really amazing to see, so hopefully they raised a lot of money."
Cicarrelli's time in the NHL spanned 19 seasons, one year more than the age of many of the Cougars, Eagles and Pilots he was facing.
"We may be triple their age, but we're a little smarter than them out on the ice," the 57-year-old Ciccarelli said laughing. "They might have the younger legs, but you need some smarts to play this game. It is great to see old friends and share some stories in the dressing room, but this was all about helping out another hockey player, and that is a win-win for everybody."
More than 100 corporate and individual sponsors donated funds and items for a silent auction. While the event certainly brought in a large amount of money, Mastronardi was simply pleased to see the community support, calling it a touching gesture on his road to recovery.
"Knowing this many people care about how I'm doing is amazing," Mastronardi said. "I want them all to know, I will walk again. It's going to happen."
About the author
Timothy Pontzer is a sports reporter who covers Oakland and Macomb counties for the Shelby-Utica News, Macomb Chronicle, Troy Times and Rochester Post. Pontzer has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2016 and is a proud graduate of Oakland University.
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