HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Athletes often gibe back to their local community — proving that they are so much more than the sport they play, and we saw that in Huntsville on Tuesday.
The Huntsville Havoc made the trip to the Huntsville Hospital to learn more about the local NICU ahead of their 17th annual Melissa George Night.
“We get to go out there and just play a game, but this is a lot bigger than a sport,” said Tyler Piacentini, the captain of the Huntsville Havoc. “Being an athlete, you always want to give back and to be able to have an impact that we do here for this night, it’s truly amazing and it’s something we don’t take lightly. We’re going to work hard Saturday night to get a win and more importantly raise as much money as we can.”
The Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund was established in memory of Amy and Chris George’s daughter Melissa. Amy gave birth to twin girls at 26 weeks and Melissa died just a few hours after she was born. The other baby, Ann Catherine, spent 68 days in the NICU.
Since 2005, they have raised more than $4.2 million for NICU equipment and to support local families.
“The Huntsville Havoc hopped on 17 years ago,” said Chris George, co-founder of the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund. “I was a former player here in Huntsville and the front office at the time, they had had experience with either infant loss or a child in the NICU and they wanted to partner with us and do a Melissa George Night where they auction off jerseys and for the last 16 years we’ve done that and we have raised that night alone more than $800,000.”
“The hockey community is something special and for them to get on board and support us the way they do every Melissa George night is something special,” he continued.
On Tuesday, players traveled to the Huntsville Hospital NICU to meet some of the families, provide them the blankets they made, and learn firsthand what they’re playing for on Saturday.
“We go out there and we play hockey and we get bumps and bruises but to see what these babies are going through every day, it’s a lot bigger than us going out there and playing hockey,” Piacentini said. “You see the younger guys or the guys that it’s their first year, I don’t think they really know exactly what a NICU is, I didn’t my first year.”
“Seeing the tour, you see exactly what we’re raising the money for,” he explained. “To see the beds and how expensive the equipment is and to see what the families and the babies have to go through, it’s truly amazing and to see the guys, the looks on their faces, it gives us a little extra push for Saturday.”
“As a player you’re always told you play for the name on the front of the jersey not the name on the back,” Chris George added. “For this night, they’re playing with Melissa’s name on the front of it, it’s extra special our family. With the guys being able to come here today to the NICU to see it, I think it adds a more personal touch to what they’re playing for that night and makes it even that much more special.”
The 17th annual Melissa George Night is set for this Saturday with puck drop just after 7 p.m. at Propst Arena. For more information on the game and what you can donate, click here.