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Honoring their hero Benefit aids area youth hockey leader now living with Lou Gehrig's disease

Dominik Hasek and 700 fans paid tribute Thursday evening to Fred Korey, executive director of the Hasek's Heroes youth hockey program.

Korey, 46, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, sat quietly below the podium in HSBC Arena, aided by a ventilator but firmly holding a marker and a dry-erase board. At one point, when Hasek's Heroes board member Mark Mendel was trying to quiet the crowd, Korey wrote him this message on his board:

"Yell like you do on the bench at a game."

The benefit, at $25 a ticket, featured live and silent auctions of autographed hockey memorabilia and other prizes to defray medical expenses for Korey, who since 2001 has given shape to Hasek's $1 million endowment for inner-city youth hockey.

Korey's sister, Janice Curatolo of East Amherst, told the crowd that Korey has become the 25th member of her family to acquire the degenerative nerve disease.

"I myself have been running from it all my life," she said, recounting how it struck everyone from her great-grandfather to a cousin who was only 25 years old. Their father, Fred C. Korhummel, died from the disease, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, at age 57.

"Well, now I can't run," she went on, fighting back a tear. "It's affected my hero, my brother."

But this hasn't robbed her brother of his mental sharpness or his sense of humor, she said, as she recalled the day the family surrounded him in his hospital room, dumb founded at the bad news.

"What are you waiting for?" Korey wrote on his board to break the ice. "The show to begin?"

Laughter again erupted in the arena's Harbor Club.

"Freddie has so many more things to live for," she said, "and we are so thankful he has chosen life. He's still the same Freddie. We still tease him."

Kevin English, a former teammate who has known him since sixth grade, recalled the day when Korey told him: "Kevin, I'm living the dream. I'm teaching my kids." English said there has "never been an ounce of 'quit' in Fred."

A rousing cheer shook the clubhouse when Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn handed Korey a $30,000 check from the Buffalo Sabres Foundation and announced a pledge for $25,000 more next year.

Then it was Hasek's turn at the microphone. As he waited for the excited crowd to quiet down, children standing before the podium looked up at him in awe.

"Fred Korey is a man who means so much to my family and to this community," Hasek began. "This community has always been so great to me and my family. I wanted to give something back, and [Hasek's Heroes] is helping young people build confidence and self-esteem in life.

"It needed strong leadership," he added. "The common thread to tie all our efforts together has been Coach Fred. He wasn't just coaching hockey -- he's been investing in the future leaders of this community."

Hasek said Korey "knows what it means to be a dominator" and told him he shows it "with ... courage and dignity."

"Dom, thank you," Korey wrote on his board. "I will e-mail you."

Recalling Korey's early days as a hockey player for the Buffalo Junior Sabres, 1977-79, and at Canisius College, 1978-81, Erie County Legislator Michele Iannello, a Hasek's Heroes board member, read the declaration of Fred Korey Day for his "years of uncompromising dedication" to youth hockey.

Earlier, as she watched the Harbor Club swell with well-wishers, Lisa Bauer of Lancaster, another Korey sister, remarked: "It brought me to tears to see people who we haven't seen in 20 to 30 years. This will be great for Fred's spirit. He definitely needs this boost for his spirit."

Korey's wife, Maria, said he is still executive director of Hasek's Heroes and plans to continue to interact with youngsters, if only by e-mail on some days.

The Rev. Francis X. "Butch" Mazur, pastor of St. Gerard's parish in South Buffalo, remembered growing up with Korey's family in the Town of Evans and working for Korey's grandfather at the Korey Basket Co.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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