The biggest crowd to watch a game in the new Canadian International Hockey League came together on Friday night in support of one of the youngest fans of the Espanola Rivermen.
More than 900 people packed the Espanola Regional Recreation Complex for a CIHL game between the Rivermen and the visiting Sudbury Royals.
The Rivermen defeated the Royals 6-2 but the real story of the night was five-year-old Blake Crawford, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
The Rivermen, members of Blake’s family, Rosalind Russell of radio station Moose 99.3 FM and the North Shore junior hockey community teamed up to organize the night to help raise funds for the Crawfords — known as Team Blake — and assist them with costs they will face in the years ahead.
“Last night was an incredible success,” said Espanola general manager Chad Clarke. “We sold out the building with 900-plus fans and it all helped to raise money for Team Blake.”
Young Blake dropped the opening puck and was presented with an autographed Rivermen jersey and team hat during the opening ceremonies.
“The family was blown away at how everything went. They were completely overwhelmed. It cost us all nothing to be nice and once again, the Rivermen and North Shore junior hockey fans rose to the occasion,” noted Clarke.
Dennis Bond, who is Blake’s uncle, thanked the Rivermen and the community for their efforts.
“My family lives here, and without the team support, this event would not have happened. They gave everyone here an exciting game and gave Team Blake a much-needed win. It was great to see so many long time friends and family from Espanola, Manitoulin and the North Shore come out in support of Blake.”
To be sure, Blake assisted the Rivermen in overcoming an early Sudbury lead.
“Our team rallied from a 2-0 deficit with six unanswered goals and before that, the chatter in the dressing room was that we need to pull this out for Blake,” said Clarke. “It was great to see the fans come out in droves to support Team Blake.
“These are moments that reinforce that we truly are doing something incredible here…feel-good moments that everyone in attendance will carry with them close to there hearts in having the ability to turn a negative into a positive and hopefully help change a young man’s life for the better,” added an emotional Clarke.
PHOTO: Young Blake Crawford drops the puck!