At the base of Copper Mountain ski resort, in the heart of the ski village, sits a frozen pond. The smooth, glass-like surface of that pond calls to any hockey lover to lace up the skates and enjoy the natural mountain beauty over a calming winter skate session.

Skating on the half-board hockey rink sitting atop that pond was former Avalanche great Milan Hejduk, leisurely circling the ice in preparation for a game. In attempt to get his circulation flowing and warm his body, he calmly skated around with his team as they warmed up for the next game. His calm demeanor was not that of someone focusing in preparation for competition, but rather that of someone who was where they belonged. It was a calmness that represented a certain comfort in being where he was.

The date was Jan. 8 and atop that very pond a four-on-four charity hockey tournament organized by Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation was underway, with hundreds of local hockey players enjoying the game they love for a good cause.

The weather was ideal. The sun was shining brightly enough that the glare off the ice and snow took a few minutes to grow accustomed to, but the air was cold enough to keep the ice frozen. It was perfect ski weather, really. Over the sounds of sticks clapping against pucks, skates slicing through ice and the animated chatter of a fun-loving crowd, was background music that played loud enough for everyone to hear. The PA announcer interrupts, “Five minutes until game time.”

The game began and the young, fast team opposing Hejduk’s seemed eager to win, displaying effort that would have helped them beat any other team in the tournament. Hejduk sat patiently, awaiting the opposition to make a move, he would read their play perfectly, and effortlessly take the puck away to start an offensive rush. His defensive stick speed was too quick for the opposition to get around, be it through passing or stick handling; it was clear that Hejduk, three years into retirement, hadn’t lost that part of his game. While on offense, his stick handling could not be stopped even with two, sometimes three defenders on him. His puck-handling skills defied the snowy, slow, beat up surface. By drawing the defense to him, he would open up space on the ice for his teammates who would await his pass and bury the puck in the small slots of the wooden boxes used as goals.

Even more of an obstacle for his opponents was Hejduk’s mind for the game. Even in a smaller rink setting, his ability to identify and execute scoring chances was still at an elite (perhaps too good for this tournament) level. Obviously, his competition is nowhere near that of an NHL caliber team, but against one of the top teams in the top level, Hejduk was by far the best player on the ice. Through tight passing, finding open space and his teammates’ ability to finish, Hejduk’s team won that particular game 24-10 and eventually, the entire tournament. Hejduk showed that playing in the elements in an outdoor setting is somewhere he feels comfortable, somewhere he shines, somewhere he was meant to be.

Just a few weeks away from the alumni game, part of the outdoor Stadium Series, Avalanche fans can rest assured that Hejduk has definitely kept his game sharp since retiring. Of course, he did not participate in the Dawg Nation tournament to hone his outdoor play, but rather to benefit a good cause with a local charity organization.

It could be said that Hejduk’s team bought the championship that weekend, but in this case, no one is complaining. As part of the charity, Hejduk offered his services to the highest bidding team. A team that was sponsored by 5280 Waste stepped up with an $830 donation and scored the former pro as a teammate. Also offering their services in the same fashion were former Denver Cutthroats head coach and NHLer Derek Armstrong, and Aaron MacKenzie, who once played for the University of Denver, the Cutthroats and the Avalanche.

The three former NHL players were not just there to lend their services as hockey players, however. After day one of the tournament was complete and the ice was beat up and almost unusable, Martin “Marty” Richardson, the founder of Dawg Nation and tournament organizer, had to perform emergency maintenance on the ice in order to keep the tournament going. It was cold and dark and he was alone; he didn’t know where to turn for help.

As most teams were back in their lodging, winding down from the games and preparing for the night’s festivities, there weren’t many people around to turn to. Marty went to the nearest bar, assuming that there would be some people who were playing in the tournament that would be willing to help. Sure enough, Marty’s assumption that there would be adult league hockey players enjoying some libations during postgame was absolutely correct; several were enjoying the Copper Mountain night life. Marty called out for volunteers. The first to raise his hand was none other than Milan Hejduk, and MacKenzie and Armstrong were right behind him to offer their help. The four of them, in sub-freezing temperatures and dark, trekked back and forth with buckets of water, manually dumping water all over the ice so that it could be playable the next day.

The maintenance was complete and everyone re-convened at the bar bordering the frozen pond. After a good first day of the tournament, the mood was festive. In a room full of hockey fans, a 5-3 Avalanche win at home against the Nashville Predators was another catalyst for the joyous mood. A brotherly energy filled the air as everyone was there to share in a game they love in support of a member of the community in need. Hejduk partook in all of the camaraderie, graciously conversing, shaking hands and taking pictures with anyone who asked.

Sponsored by the Copper Mountain resort, the first annual pond hockey tournament hosted by Dawg Nation was held the weekend of Jan. 8-10. The tournament was in honor of Dave Repsher, who was one of two survivors in a Flight for Life helicopter crash last summer. Repsher is currently in an Aurora hospital and is continuing to fight for his life, needing continued medical attention to help recover his severely burnt skin.

Read more on Dave Repsher’s accident here.

The Dawg Nation tournament raised over $80,000 for the cause and it was done through creative and generous help from outside. A decent portion of the money was raised through tournament fees from  participants, but much of it was done through an auction that was held that Saturday night in a banquet ceremony. Among the items being auctioned were several that were contributed by the Colorado Avalanche, one of them being Milan Hejduk. Aside from Hejduk’s presence on the ice, the Avalanche also donated an entire suite to an upcoming Avs game that Hejduk will be in throughout the game. There was a package that included a signed Gabriel Landeskog jersey and two Stadium Series game tickets; the Avalanche even lent their talented and well-known singer Jake Schroeder to sing the national anthem preceding the auction ceremony. Throughout the years, Richardson has worked hard at developing a relationship with the Avalanche to help his cause and the Avalanche have gone above and beyond to help, not only in this year’s tournament but in other fundraisers in the past as well.

Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation is a local nonprofit dedicated to helping members of the Colorado hockey community who are in need. Whether they are current men’s league players, referees, or just huge fans of the game, Dawg Nation hosts several events throughout the year to raise money for people who need help with medical expenses.

The founder, Martin Richardson, was on an adult league team many years ago when one of his teammates was in need of help with medical bills. The guys on the team all pitched in to help and Marty, was inspired to keep the idea going. Dawg Nation now hosts several events throughout the year including: a golf tournament, a comedy night, a summer adult hockey tournament and many others. With the help of word-of-mouth success stories and coverage from local television and print, Dawg Nation is now a well-recognized organization all over the state and is beginning to expand across the United States.

With the help of the Colorado Avalanche, Dawg Nation was able to bring a portion of Colorado’s hockey community together to help one of its members. Consolidating members of the adult hockey community in Colorado to help support another hockey player in need is truly a special sight to see. The beautiful setting, the amazing company and the beautiful game of hockey, were all essential in making the weekend a great success. The real beauty, however, was in the banding together of a group to help one of its own.

Learn more about Dawg Nation and how to participate.