By Scott Lowe - MyHockeyRankings.com
When Lara Hopewell finally had time to take a breath last January and comprehend what her October Saves Goalie Challenge had accomplished in 2019, she knew it was going to take a lot of hard work to top the $500,000 that had been raised to support cancer research. At that point, though, she had no idea the obstacles she would face in 2020.
With planning pushed back to the spring as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, ice rinks in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland – the area where the Virginia-based program first gained traction – remained closed well into June. Not only was the future of October Saves in jeopardy, but also there was no guarantee of having a 2020-21 youth hockey season at all.
“In June and July it was really not looking good for hockey,” Hopewell said. “One of the rinks in Maryland was literally still being used as a morgue for COVID victims in June, and at one point I was worried that we might not be able to continue. But we felt like somehow we had to do this and kept believing it would work out.”
Her refusal to give up led to the creation of the “All Saves, One Goal Campaign,” in which literally every save counts.
Goalies who live in areas where ice rinks are not open can make saves that count toward their fundraising while training in their driveways or backyards. Goalies who play for teams that are just practicing right now can count any saves made during team workouts. In-line goalies playing pick-up games or in leagues also can join in as can street-hockey goalies. And even gamers playing NHL ’21 or other hockey video games at home can count their saves.
So, if you’re stopping shots of any kind this month, you can raise money to help fight cancer.
“All saves count toward one goal,” Hopewell said. “We always believed we could do it, but I’ve been blown away by what has happened so far. I would have been pretty happy if under the circumstances we had been able to raise $10,000. That would have been awesome. No matter what we would be raising money and would distribute it to do great things.”
While $10,000 would have been great, through the first five days of this month October Saves already had raised $100,000 with more than 650 goalies registered. That was just $5,000 behind the pace set during last year’s record-setting campaign.
“We got so many emails from goalies during the summer asking about the program, if it was going to happen and how they could get involved,” Hopewell said. “It was amazing. We had to do something, and we believed. People find themselves in so many different situations as far being able to play hockey right now, so we really had no idea what to expect. We didn’t think it would be possible to raise $100K at all, much less to do that through day five. We hoped to, but had no idea. It’s crazy that our little plan has worked, and now it’s full speed ahead.”
Started in 2014 with all 28 of the goalies in the Ashburn (Va.) Xtreme youth hockey program participating, October saves expanded into Canada two years ago and continued growing in 2019. That first year, Ashburn’s goalies raised an amazing $32,000 on their own.
The numbers improved substantially in year two, with NHL goaltending coach Mitch Korn donating a spot in one of his goalie camps as a prize, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay Hockey League, which includes pretty much all of the Tier 2 travel programs in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia, began supporting the program. Then USA Hockey got on board.
Last year, state captains were added around the United States in hopes of introducing the program to new areas, and goalies from more than 20 states and several Canadian provinces participated. Hopewell expects that the program eventually will raise more than $1 million, but she never expected 2020, the year of COVID and so much other bad news, to be shaping up like this.
“It’s the same concept we’ve always had,” Hopewell said, “but with literally every save counting this year goalies are making a lot more saves, so that changes the scale of the pledges they are receiving a little bit. But any goalies making saves in October from Mites to beer league and anyone in between can participate. We get a lot of the same kids participating year after year, and now we are getting a whole new round of goalies coming in who are fired up and all-in.”
As usual, goalies can solicit donations from family members, family friends, teammates, teachers, classmates, their parents’ co-workers or anyone else. Pledges can be made on a per-save basis, or there can be flat donations. Hopewell said that the organization is receiving larger flat donations than ever before.
“I really wasn’t expecting that with everything going on and so many people out of work or earning less,” she said. “I’ve been blown away. It’s nuts, really.”
The early leader in fundraising is Washington Little Caps goalie Emeline Grennan, a female playing on a boys’ team. She is raising money in honor of Kay Lauren Miller, a former teacher of hers who fought breast cancer, and has already brought in nearly $11,000 in just five days.
“For a child to raise that much in four or five days is insane,” Hopewell said. “She’s killing it, a real fundraising beast; and she’s doing it for all the right reasons. It’s a wonderful story.”
An unexpected fundraising boost also has been provided by the gaming community. The involvement of gamers has opened up the program to many kids and adults who love hockey and enjoy playing the sport on video-game platforms but may not actually play on a team or recreationally.
The Goalie Guild, an educational non-profit that seeks to enhance and advance goaltending at the grassroots level, has been a longtime supporter of the October Saves program and is putting together an online streaming event on Twitch later this month that will benefit the All Saves, One Goal Campaign and coincide with the launch of EA Sports’ NHL ’21 game.
Another boost has been provided by the ability for goalies in the hockey-crazed state of Minnesota to participate. Since saves made during actual games are usually what can be counted toward the fundraiser, players in Minnesota haven’t been able to fully participate because their seasons start much later than in other parts of the country. That’s not the case this year with practice saves thrown into the mix. In addition, the former October Saves state captain from Virginia moved to Minnesota and has been spreading the word there.
“That just gives us more momentum now that a state like Minnesota can participate,” Hopewell said. “Now that all saves count, it opens up a whole new front for us, and there’s no reason that people from everywhere can’t do it.”
Despite the change in format this year, pretty much everything else about October Saves has remained the same as before for participants. Anyone interested in participating can go to www.OctoberSaves.org
to register. Registration is easy, and participants are encouraged to build their own pages with photos and artwork of their choosing. The organization helps participants create letters to send to potential donors, and the website calculates the donations and collects the payments.
Prizes include a customized goalie helmet, leg pads and a goalie stick for the top fundraisers, and there are awards for different levels of fundraising as participants reach the $250, $500, $750, $1,000, $1,200, $1,500 and $3,000 plateaus. Any goalies who raise more than $1,000 are entered into a raffle to win a week at one of Korn’s goaltending camps. A new prize, a virtual goalie-training aid called “Goalie to Go” that is made by Sense Arena and valued at several thousand dollars, has been added for the top overall fundraiser in North America.
As always, October Saves has aligned with organizations in the. U.S. such as the Invoa Schar Cancer Institute in Virginia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Stand Up to Cancer. In Canada, October Saves partners with Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, which is able to funnel funds to reputable organizations all over the country.
Funds raised by the program are distributed to these organizations, and this year money also will go to three COVID emergency funds – The Pink Fund, Lungevity and Family Reach – for people who have cancer and are struggling to pay for treatments or other related expenses because they lost their jobs or for other reasons related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Based on the new approach and the fundraising avenues it has opened, it seems possible that October Saves might be on track for another record-breaking year. Hopewell and her team have made that happen in just a few short months after fearing the program might be put on hold for a year.
Not bad for an organization that just a few years ago ran off of an excel spreadsheet and basically included three volunteers plus Hopewell, her husband Rob and her two goalie sons – Will, who plays for the University of Richmond; and Aidan, who is a 15U netminder for the Washington Little Caps. The program’s growth in recent years has necessitated hiring a public-relations professional and paying for some marketing assistance.
But what about this new format? It has opened up a whole new world of potential fundraisers, so Is it here to stay?
“With the All Saves, One Goal Campaign, so many people can participate however they want,” Hopewell said. “They can be creative and participate in one way to raise money or do all of the above – practices, games, in-line or gaming. It all counts. It’s going so well that we may continue doing it this way. I don’t quite know yet. We were just hoping to be able to do something this year, and now it looks like we are going to be able to do so many great things.”