Military heroes make lasting family memories through All-Star Hero
Four military members and their children took in 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto as part of the All-Star Hero campaign.
The 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for four military personnel, who each brought a child with them, as NHLPA Goals & Dreams and the United Heroes League teamed up for the fourth All-Star Hero campaign.
Established in 2018, the experience includes an all-expenses trip to watch the game’s top talent and take part in festivities to thank them for their service.
Warrant Officer Sean Collins and Master Warrant Officer Donald Evans of the Canadian Armed Forces, along with Command Sergeant Major Wade Scott and First Sergeant (Ret.) Michael Taylor of the United States Army were chosen as this year’s winners.
In January, the service members found out about their selection on a video call with two-time NHL All-Star and Washington Capitals forward, Tom Wilson.
“I was in shock,” said Sean Collins, who has served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 20 years. “We were thrilled.”
Collins, who is based out of Gagetown, New Brunswick, was accompanied by his 12-year-old daughter, Neveah.
“I liked everything. I liked the hardest shot competition. We were right behind the net so you could see all the action,” said Neveah, who witnessed her favourite player, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, crowned as NHL All-Star Game MVP.
Aside from all the hockey-related happenings, the chance to interact with fellow service members was a highlight for Collins.
“Hearing their stories – we all have vastly different ones – was very memorable for me.
“Our families are very important to us, what we do for our countries is important, so to have the chance to sit down and find out more about one another was awesome.
“We all have something that unites us, and we found something to talk about right away.”
It was the same scenario when Collins interacted with the players over the three days of festivities.
“I met Conor Bedard and I’ve spoken with Tom Wilson several times since we have been here. They are all awesome people,” Collins said from Toronto shortly after the skills competition. “We appreciate what they do – they do so much for the fans.”
Michael Taylor, a combat-wounded veteran who received the Purple Heart and earned 21 years of service, was joined by his 13-year-old son, Chase.
“We were supposed to come last year,” said Taylor, who calls Assonet, Massachusetts, home. “But the night before, I got hospitalized, so we weren’t able to make it.
“Something like this doesn’t come around twice and when we found out we were coming this time – it is even that much more of a blessing for us.”
Meeting some of their favourite players from the Boston Bruins, including David Pastrnak and Jeremy Swayman, was one of several highlights for the father and son.
“They are so nice, and I liked talking to them,” said Chase. “Everything has been great, even better than I thought it would be.”
“I served a long time in the military,” started Taylor, who served as a Field Artillery Radar Operator and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. “I missed out on a lot of stuff with my son, so this means so much. To do this together and see the enjoyment he gets from meeting the players – these memories will be with him for the rest of his life.”
One particular chance meeting with a pair of the game’s top players was a huge thrill for both father and son.
“We were coming down in the elevator and Cale Makar was in there. We watched him when he played college hockey at UMass, so that was awesome to see him. And then Leon Draisaitl walked in.
“They are just normal guys – it was just amazing. I figured we would see a few of the players, say hello and maybe get an autograph or two, but it has surpassed everything. The players are amazing people and so welcoming to everyone.”
Donald Evans, who has served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 21 years, flew to Toronto from New Brunswick with his 11-year-old son, Ryan.
“I can’t even put into words what it means to be here with my son,” said Evans, a father of three.
“To see all the players, who are just normal people, smiling and talking to everyone is fantastic. It puts into perspective that even though they are superstars, they are down-to-earth people – it’s an amazing experience.”
Ryan, who plays for the U13 A Oromocto Eagles, was able to collect a number of autographs over the three days.
He also had the chance to go one-on-one with Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson in a game of air hockey.
Although he came out on the losing end, it was a treasured moment for both Ryan and his father.
“Ryan just went up and asked him to play, and he was happy to do it,” recalled Evans. “That just shows you what hockey players are all about. Every player was giving of their time. There were no cameras around – that says a lot about who they are.”
Evans, who is still on active duty, was most grateful to enjoy the moments with Ryan.
“There are so many times when I am away, whether it is deployment, courses, or training, so to go this is the opportunity of a lifetime for us. Hopefully, the days I have been gone will fade away a little bit and he will remember the good things like this.”
Wade Scott, who has served for 22 years and counting with the United States Army, brought his 21-year-old son, Liam, to NHL All-Star Weekend.
The combat-wounded Purple Heart recipient, who was born in Calgary and now calls California home, is a longtime hockey fan who is grateful for the UHL’s support .
“We have been interacting with the players since we got here,” said Scott, who served several years in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to other operations and training. “We have had the honour of getting to eat with them three times a day, which is amazing.”
Like his fellow service members attending NHL All-Star Weekend, Scott was grateful to share the experiences with his son.
“It’s very precious. One thing with the military is that you lose a lot of time – I have had multiple deployments and at one point, I missed half his life – so this is something that helps fill the gaps.”
The NHL All-Star Skills Competition was a personal highlight of the weekend.
“As a kid growing up, I played hockey, so to see the greatest players in the world showing just how talented they are was fantastic.”
The chance to speak with some of those very players went exactly how he anticipated.
“The humility, the dignity, how well they treat people they don’t know, how well they treat each other – it’s a fantastic sport and it’s a very binding sport.”
“Hockey pulled us through a lot of absences and so has the UHL, who have been there for many military members and their families. I am grateful for all that.”