By John Kovach
YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown area and hockey community are coming together to hold a fundraiser Aug. 24 at the Chevrolet Centre for Jason Baird of Austintown, a former Youngstown SteelHounds’ player who was severely burned in an lawnmowing accident July 17.
The centerpiece of the event will be an exhibition hockey game played between former and current NHL players and former Steelhounds and other minor league players that will begin at 3 p.m.
“Our goal is to get 6,000 people in there,” said Kevin Kaminski, former SteelHounds’ coach who is co-leading the charge to organize the fundraiser.
Kaminski said that among the players committing to play in the game so far are former Pittsburgh Penguins — Phil Bourque, Ken Wregget, Troy Loney and Mark Kachowski.
Other components of the fundraiser to help defray some of Baird’s medical and other expenses are a Chinese auction starting at 1:30 p.m. when the doors open, and an auction of the players’ actual jerseys after the game.
Kaminski believes the ticket prices will be $15 for adults and $10 for children.
“This is a benefit for a family in need and this family needs all the support we can give them,” said Kaminski, who is being assisted and supported by the SteelHounds’ Booster Club, headed by president Cindy Piedra of Boardman.
Baird, 27, of Austintown, who joined the SteelHounds last season in November in a trade with the Corpus Christi Rayz of the CHL, was burned over 60 percent of his body when the lawn mower he was driving exploded while he was working for a landscaping company in Austintown.
He is a patient at the Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Center and making steady progress in his recovery.
“This is a good opportunity to gather around [a good cause] and embrace together. This is a hockey family and this is what hockey is all about — helping people to get through tough times like this,” said Kaminski. “With all of the NHL players coming in [for the game], this should be a great night for a great cause.”
Also coming in are Mike Rupp, Baird’s former teammate with the Erie Otters who now is with the NHL New Jersey Devils; and David Oliver, who played more than 230 games with the Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars and who now is general manager of the Lake Erie Monsters.
Another highlight will be the playing appearance of Dave Hanson, one of the three brothers who had roles in the movie “Slapshot.”
Kaminski also said former SteelHounds Chris Richards, Jeff Alconbrack, Adam Smith, Andy Franck and Jason Spence also have committed to play in the game, as well Frank Littlejohn, Baird’s teammate in Muskegon.
Spence played for the SteelHounds two years ago and now is with Johnstown Chiefs.
“That is all [the players] we have on the line but we have contacted more players and we are hoping to have them come in,” said Kaminski, who also is a former NHL player with the Washington Capitals and will play in the game wearing his NHL sweater.
Kaminski said the Draught House has committed the $3,500 necessary for the ice surface at the Chevrolet Centre for the event.
Kaminski said that, “All of these players will wear either a home or away jersey [from their NHL team], and at end of the night we will have a live auction and auction them off.”
Kaminski thinks that the list of players will increase in the days leading up to the fundraiser.
“We also may have a couple of young [Mahoning Valley] Phantoms come in to join our team,” said.
Kaminski said anyone wishing to donate items or time to the event should call him at (662) 404-0302.
Updates of Baird’s condition can be found on-line at www.caringbridge.org/visit/jasonbaird. The Web site is maintained by his wife, Bethany, and is updated by her daily.