As the NWHL and its Foundation work tirelessly to find fun and exciting ways to blend hockey and charitable causes in a true win-win situation, an admirable effort saw the Boston Pride host a fundraiser for Do It for Daron (DIFD). Although DIFD was started in Ottawa, Canada as a way to honor the life of the late Daron Richardson, daughter of former NHLer Luke Richardson, its powerful message has been a source of inspiration in the United States as well.
Such support in the US first gained prominence in New York State. With Morgan Richardson, Daron’s older sister, playing for the Cornell Big Red in Ithaca, New York, and Luke serving as head coach of the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators, both teams graciously held DIFD fundraisers.
This year, the Boston Pride and the NCAA’s Princeton Tigers have both participated in DIFD fundraisers, helping reinforce the foundation’s inspiring message to encourage young people to speak about mental illness and not be afraid to seek assistance. DIFD’s mission is to provide encouragement, eradicating any feelings of shame and/or weakness that may come with such revelation.
Two members of the Boston Pride, Alyssa Gagliardi and Lauren Slebodnick competed with Morgan on the Cornell Big Red, seeing the impact of DIFD first hand. Playing in multiple fundraising games, they were among the proud members of the Big Red roster that were part of a remarkable outpouring of support.
For Slebodnick, the chance to be part of the DIFD fundraisers also allowed her to get to know the Richardson family. In addition to the visibility of Luke and Morgan via hockey, family matriarch Stephanie Richardson has been a remarkable source of inspiration. An exceptionally strong woman whose efforts to honor Daron’s life reflect a strong leadership, she became a cherished friend for so many in the Cornell community,
“What I like most about DIFD is the positive impact it has made on the Richardson family and others. Playing with Morgan for two years allowed me to get to know her and her family as truly incredible people.
They have not only managed to conquer this adversity in their own lives, but also found an amazing way to reach, educate, and inspire thousands of people. DIFD and the Richardson family has inspired me to be a better friend and teammate, and to be more observant of the people around me.”
In reflecting on the origins of the Boston Pride’s involvement with this event, it can actually be traced back before the team’s inaugural puck drop. Through the gracious support of team management, Gagliardi was able to get in touch with former teammate Morgan and begin the empowering process,
“Actually, before the season started, I had asked our GM, Hayley Moore, if there were any open weekends to plan a charity game, as I was hoping to plan a DIFD game after being a part of them while at Cornell. Luckily, there was an open weekend here in January so it was great how it worked out, and like I said, it is a topic that there is a significant stigma around so if we can play a small part in getting people to talk more openly about it and find ways to support one another, then we can call it a success.
I was in contact with Steph Richardson and Morgan Richardson throughout the whole process starting a few months before, and as always, they were amazing in helping in every way possible, putting me in contact with people from DIFD and connecting with people in Boston and all over to help spread the word.”
Although Morgan and her family were laying hockey roots in New York State, they have never forgotten the remarkable outpouring of support from the hockey community in the city of Ottawa. The holiday break has provided the Richardsons with the chance to get in touch with their hockey roots there.
The Ottawa Lady Senators and Nepean Wildcats of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) participated in fundraisers for DIFD, adding new meaning to the holiday spirit. Bringing out the support of many significant individuals, including OWHA president Fran Rider and many PWHL alums, those heartwarming games were testament to the outpouring of admiration for DIFD. As a side note, some of the participants would eventually establish a connection with New England women’s hockey, among them Rebecca Leslie.
A gold medalist with Canada at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds (akin to Morgan), Leslie would continue her remarkable career with the NCAA’s Boston University Terriers. Since Daron’s passing, Leslie has always worn a DIFD sticker on the back of her helmet, always remembering the impact that Daron had on her life as a friend and a hero. It was only fitting that Leslie was among a group of current NCAA players in the Boston area that were part of the ceremonial puck drop at the Pride’s DIFD fundraiser, as Gagliardi reflected,
“It was special to have three girls that play college hockey locally in Boston — Rebecca Leslie (BU), Jess Harvey (Harvard), and Connor Galaway (BU) — do the ceremonial puck drop, as they all played with Daron and Morgan for many years in minor hockey. They have obviously been involved with DIFD since its inception and played huge roles in spreading the DIFD message and sharing Daron’s legacy, so it was cool to have them there, as well.
I think the game was a great success and I hope we can make this an annual event moving forward.”
Hosting the New York Riveters in the DIFD fundraiser, there were strong emotions for both teams. Not only were both taking to the ice for a noble cause, but it was part of a weekend filled with a second straight fundraiser for the Riveters. The evening prior, the Riveters made the trip to Ingalis Rink in New Haven, home to the Yale Bulldogs. Competing against the host team Connecticut Whale, a fundraiser for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation was held.
In addition, the Pride played with extra incentive as their hearts were filled with thoughts about injured teammate Denna Laing. With all players in the league now wearing yellow stickers with Laing’s #24 in black font on the back of their helmets, the DIFD fundraiser took an even more inspiring new meaning. Through it all, the collaborative spirit and positive example that the women’s hockey community sets as hockey humanitarians are all points of pride for Slebodnick,
“I am thrilled to see DIFD gaining so much support in and out of the hockey community. Teams everywhere are getting involved to help spread awareness, and it is wonderful to see how positively the public is receiving and supporting the cause.”
Following the game, all members of the Pride and the visiting Riveters took to centre ice and formed the shape of a heart, as DIFD’s logo consists of a purple shaped heart. It is a customary feature taking place at all DIFD hockey fundraisers, which have also taken place in CIS women’s hockey, the PWHL and the Ontario Hockey League. Such a moment proved heartwarming for Gagliardi, who posted the photo on social media, proud of the collaborative efforts of teammate and opponent on a truly meaningful night, sending a powerful message that resources are always available and no one is truly alone,
“Yes, it is always a special moment when you can help raise awareness about a cause that is not talked about nearly enough, such as youth mental health. Being a part of it at Cornell was amazing, and getting to know the Richardsons and the amazing people around DIFD throughout that time really makes it special to be a part of. I think with the platform we have been given as high level athletes and through the NWHL, it was cool to be able to use it to bring awareness to DIFD and hopefully inspire conversations.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook
For more information on Do It for Daron, please visit: http://www.difd.com/
Follow DIFD on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/difdroyal