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WNY values resonate with Krupp

You didn't realize it at the time, but you mattered. When he was trying to learn the language and was tentative with the people, you were patient with him. When he lost his way, you guided him. When he struggled, you supported him.

You made a difference in Uwe Krupp's life, and it meant the world to him.

He's a hockey dad in Atlanta, and now he appreciates everything you did even more. He remembered how Western New York opened its arms after he arrived from Germany in 1986, when he was trying to find his way with the Buffalo Sabres as a 21-year-old rookie who barely spoke English.

"The people are so friendly in Buffalo," Krupp said Monday. "It was very easy for me to fit in. It was a great team and a great organization. It was like a family. The Knoxes were great people. I loved Buffalo."

In many ways, his experience in our community led him to open his doors for two young hockey players displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He was there when they needed him most, as you were for him some 20 years ago. This is his way of returning the favor, his way of showing how a little boost can have a major effect on people's lives.

Krupp is coaching Germany in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, but soon he'll return to his expanded family in Atlanta. He's coaching a bantam major team that includes kids from across the South, from Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and beyond.

You think travel hockey is too expensive in Buffalo? They're paying between $10,000 and $15,000 a year when airfare is added up.

It's how he met Joel Kern and Ryan Wainwright. They were 14-year-old wingers from New Orleans looking to play hockey at a high level, which is difficult to find in southern cities. They latched onto the TPH Thunder, a team Krupp is coaching that alternates its practices in Atlanta, Nashville and Huntsville, Ala.

"They're good athletes," Krupp said. "We're always looking for a few good players."

In August, during a practice weekend in Nashville, their relationship took a dramatic turn amid hurricane warnings in New Orleans. The initial plan called for them to fly back to Atlanta and wait out the storm for a few days, a week at the most. Well, they're still there along with Krupp's son, Bjorn, and another player from North Carolina who already was spending the season there. They can stay as long as they please.

"That house is like a locker room," Krupp said. "We're having a blast."

Krupp and his wife, Valerie, will keep the boys through the school year. Wainwright's father, Scott, spent a few days with Krupp before relocating to Baton Rouge, La., with the rest of his family. Kern's family also is staying with relatives in Louisiana. His father, Tim, is a chiropractor who had four offices in New Orleans that were washed away.

Talk about changing on the fly.

Krupp's kindness has rallied his community. The boys are attending the International Atlanta School, which waived its $16,000 tuition for the two players. They had little more than their hockey equipment before the hurricane, so local families have donated clothes and other necessities. Krupp is treating their sons as if they were his own, guiding them through sports and teaching them about life.

"I was on the beach with Joel, and I said, 'Look, we wouldn't be disappointed if you wanted to come home. Whatever you want to do is OK,' " Tim Kern said. "He said, 'Are you out of your mind? I've got it made. I've got a dream come true.' "

You think the kids will remember the next time someone else needs help? Yes, this gift keeps giving.

Krupp recently renovated a three-bedroom house in Atlanta. He sold it in December after spending three months crammed into the home with four 14-year-old boys. Valerie Krupp reluctantly acknowledged they're spending about $500 a week on groceries alone. He wouldn't take a dime until December, when the families became more stable and insisted he accept money.

"He's just a great guy to have around the house," Joel Kern said. "You're always learning something, whether you're introducing yourself or playing hockey. He's just a great guy, a great mentor whether he's talking about hockey or teaching you a lesson about life. It's an extraordinary experience. You get to play hockey, you live with your coach, who's an ex-NHL player. It's so cool."

You want cool?

Krupp said his wife should be enshrined in a Hall of Fame for mothers. And to think she isn't one, technically. Valerie Krupp is his second wife. His son is from his first marriage. Krupp spent weeks on the road in preparation for the Olympics while Valerie Krupp hockey mommed for four boys who aren't hers. Incredible.

"She's driving the kids to school and picking them up, helping them with their school work," Krupp said. "She does everything. She's the one who deserves the medal here."

Valerie took the boys to the Olympics before flying to Miami on Friday for a weekend tournament. Their parents paid the airfare while Krupp sprang for an apartment in Turin. They were expected to fly back to Atlanta on Monday, so they could be back in school today. Germany has been eliminated from the medal round, so Krupp will get behind the bench today against Finland and head home.

This family doesn't need a break. It needs a secretary.

"It's been great," Valerie Krupp said. "The boys have really bonded. They get upset when one is missing. They all have distinct personalities. It sounds crazy, but it's worked out fabulous."

It's all about giving back. Krupp played 15-plus seasons in the NHL, including his first six in Buffalo. He appreciated every one of them. He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Colorado Avalanche in the third overtime in 1996. Nagging back problems forced him to retire in 2002, after four games with the Atlanta Thrashers.

He loved the game and treasured the people he met along the way. He's financially set for life, and he's sharing his wealth with good, hard-working people while they overcome barriers and adjust to their environment. It's a familiar story. You probably forgot about him years ago, but he remembered you.

"Buffalo is definitely a place where I had great memories," he said. "I like the people there, and they left a mark."


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