Off-ice work paying off for Hockey Humanitarian Award finalist Rivera
A message from his older brother Jake a couple of years ago started Luke Rivera down a path advocating for others that has him in the running for the 2018 Hockey Humanitarian Award.
The Hockey Humanitarian Award Foundation annually awards college hockey’s “finest citizen” for leadership in community service.
“When my older brother, who did a charity event through hockey for autism, graduated, he texted my younger brother (Nick, a sophomore forward at Minnesota State) and me,” Luke recalled. “He told us, ‘The one thing I regret about the four years I spent at Potsdam (State) is I wish I could have given more off the ice. You guys have an opportunity do more than just play a game.’”
That got Luke, a junior forward at Fredonia State, thinking.
“I know our team does something for cancer, but I’d never seen anybody do a stroke awareness game,” he said. “It wasn’t out there.”
Rivera has vivid memories of the impact a stroke can have on an individual and a family, because his mother Dana suffered one in 2009 while at a store. She was rushed to an emergency room, then released, then suffered a second one at home. Her husband Rick and Jake rushed home from a hockey tournament in Las Vegas.
The three brothers and their sister Sophie grew closer during the following weeks, months and years as their mother, who Luke described as a picture of health, recovered.
“Nicky was the youngest, 11 or 12, and he didn’t understand what was going on,” Luke said. “We had to be strong for him and for each other. A lot of family and friends helped us out. We could see the true colors of people.”
Luke, who played for the L.A. Jr. Kings and the California Heat, followed her lead and the admonishment of his older brother and began plotting a Stroke Awareness Game for Fredonia for the 2016-17 season. There was one problem – his coach, Jeff Meredith, had seen this sort of enthusiasm before, only to watch it fade.
“Everyone has a lot of ideas, but you have to work and put it together and everyone scatters,” he said. “Luke is very organized and on point, so I told him we need to have meetings to update me on what you’re working on.
“It only took a couple meetings to realized he was on a mission.”
The 2016-17 game raised almost $10,000. This year’s game, which Rivera couldn’t play in because he was rehabbing a torn Achilles’ tendon, raised slightly more. He also received $500 for being selected a Hockey Humanitarian Award finalist.
His vision and action resulted in a contribution of $20,500 to the Kaleida Health Foundation in Buffalo.
“He did a great job,” Meredith said. “I told his parents, ‘All I’m doing is reaping the rewards of your 23 years of hard work.’”
The Feb. 5 announcement that Rivera became the first player in Fredonia’s history to reach the final five for the award set off a practice celebration. He provided a further boost to the program when he resumed practicing shortly before the end of the season.
“His teammates love him and were so excited for him,” Meredith said. “A lot goes into a team’s success, and even though it’s been hard for him to sit out, he has brought encouragement and that insight from watching hockey like a coach would.”
The winner of the Hockey Humanitarian Award is expected to be announced later this month. The winner and his family then will be honored at the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn., in early April.
Photo/Ron Szot/Fredonia State Athletics
— Chris Bayee
(March 29, 2018)