As hockey assists go, they don't come much bigger than the $200,000 donation that will allow girls high school hockey to continue in Anchorage for at least another three seasons.
The gift from the Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation, announced Thursday between a pair of season-opening games at Ben Boeke Arena, will cover ice time, referees and other expenses through 2017-18.
And it will allow this season's players to participate for free, said Mandy Reale, the hockey director for the Scott Gomez Foundation, which came to the rescue two years ago when girls hockey was on the Anchorage School District's chopping block. Typically each player pays a $215 activity fee.
Players were elated by the news – and by what awaited them in a Ben Boeke locker room.
Besides the $200,000, the Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation donated 100 helmets, 100 sticks, practice jerseys for all six of Alaska's high school teams – three in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks, one in the Valley – and a complete set of goalie gear for all six teams.
"This shows the girls they matter to people other than their moms and dads. They have value," Reale said. "It definitely shocked a lot of the girls."
Dick's Sporting Goods doesn't have any stores in Alaska, nor does it have a connection to Anchorage's Scott Gomez, a two-time Stanley Cup winner. But it has an interest in ensuring that budget cuts don't rob kids of athletic opportunities, Reale said.
"They see that all over the U.S. sports programs are getting cut, and they want to be the good sport who steps in and says 'We don't want to see this go away,' '' she said.
Girls hockey became an Anchorage high school sport in 2003 but has never attracted enough players for each school to field a team. This season, Reale said, an estimated 100 girls will play on three teams, including one that features players from four schools -- Chugiak, Eagle River, Service and East.
The school district cut the fledgling sport in the spring of 2013 but within a couple of months the Gomez Foundation came through with a three-year commitment to oversee it.
This is the final season of that commitment, but the foundation will continue to administrate the sport for at least two more seasons after this.