Bruins Alumni to face off against Lowell Police for a worthy cause

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LOWELL — When the puck drops on Sunday, it’s going to be for a worthy cause.

On the Tsongas Center ice at 1 p.m. will be the Lowell Police Department’s hockey team, facing off against a squad of Boston Bruins Alumni. Proceeds from the game will benefit the Bridge Club of Greater Lowell, an organization dedicated to helping people recover from addiction.

Lowell Police Officer Kyle Griffin, who plays center, said the Bridge Club is helping people who may come into contact with law enforcement under “circumstances that they may not find optimal.”

“If we can help avoid those situations and support a group that’s working to help avoid those interactions that are less favorable, that’s great for us and we can reduce our interaction with them in that sense, and kind of expand (our interaction) to help with recovery,” Griffin said.

The idea for the game belongs to Bruins alum Derek Sanderson, who serves on the Bridge Club’s board of directors. Founder and Executive Director Bob Cox said the two met through a friend of a friend.

Initially, Cox had hoped for Sanderson to give a keynote address for an event honoring Jay Linnehan, president and CEO of the Greater Lowell Community Foundation. Linnehan and the foundation provided the Bridge Club with personal protective equipment in the early days of the pandemic.

Despite the pandemic, the Bridge Club never closed its doors or had to turn someone away.

Sanderson not only gave the speech, but he also vowed to use his platform to help the Bridge Club however he could, Cox said.

While Sanderson is remembered on the ice as being the person who assisted Bobby Orr’s 1970 Stanley Cup clinching goal, Cox said his legacy is off the ice.

In the later part of the 1970s, Sanderson became addicted to alcohol and after a failed night club venture in New York City, was penniless and sleeping on a park bench. In 1980, Orr helped him check into rehab, where he was able to get sober and become an advocate.

“It’s what addiction can do to someone,” Cox said. “Doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter how much money you have, doesn’t matter what color your skin is or who you call God. He’s the epitome of what this disease can do to just bring people to their knees. And the recovery story that he is, in and of itself, is a much greater story.”

Since the Bridge Club doesn’t have its own hockey team, Griffin said the police department’s team was asked to play. They jumped at the opportunity because they are supporting a worthy cause, but players on their side will also be meeting some of their childhood heroes.

“We’re all excited. To even just meet and greet in the locker room will be awesome, let alone skate with them,” Griffin said.

Coaching the Bruins Alumni team will be Hockey Hall of Famer Rick Middleton, who said Sunday’s game will likely feature one of the bigger crowds they play for this year.

“It’s always a competitive game because they want to play as good as they can, but they also want to have fun and we try to make it fun for them also,” Middleton said.

The game is friendly competition, but competition nonetheless, he added.

“It’s not the Harlem Globetrotters. We play every game to win. We don’t play to blow the other teams out depending on their level and sometimes the other team is good enough that they score early and we can’t catch up, so we never know how the game is going,” Middleton said.

Middleton is no stranger to Lowell and has a son-in-law from the city. He said the pandemic has only heightened the need for an organization like the Bridge Club.

Among those in the stands on Sunday will be Mayor Sokhary Chau. After visiting the Bridge Club in early 2020, he helped Cox start recruiting recovery coaches from a Southeast Asian background.

Chau sees Cox as an “awe-inspiring” figure who has used his own recovery from alcoholism to help others. Chau attributes the organization’s success largely to him.

“He really saw the worst of the situation and he can also see the positive coming out on the other end,” Chau said.

When Winterfest started on Friday, Chau found himself running late, looking for a place to park. He noticed Cox was outside, allowing people to use the Bridge Club’s parking lot for $20. It’s a practice Cox has also used during the Golden Gloves tournament and the money is going back into the organization.

Neither side of the hockey matchup is a stranger to raising money for charity.

Regularly, the police department competes against the fire department’s hockey team.

Lowell Police also compete in the BFit Heroes Cup against other area police and fire departments, often to benefit the Lowell Police Benevolent Society, which offers scholarships and educational opportunities to students.

For the Boston Bruins Alumni, they compete in about 30 different games each year, supporting different causes. In more than 20 years, the team has raised $6 million for charities.

After Sunday’s game, they will next take on the Penalty Box Foundation at the Breakaway Ice Center, located at 20 Carter St., Tewksbury.

The game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. March 5 and will help the Penalty Box Foundation continue to support individuals and organizations in the hockey community who have suffered a catastrophic event.

With Sanderson committed to helping his organization and the Bruins alumni in town this Sunday, Cox believes it brings credibility and attention to the Bridge Club’s mission.

“All these things we get involved with to try and raise money are a means to an end,” Cox said. “And the end is we need to keep these doors open, no matter what.”

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