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A lofty goal ; East Amherst teen scores big with backyard hockey tourney that raises money for Hasek's Heroes

With teenagers' busy lifestyles, it's not often you come across one who is so determined to help out other people. One area teenager has held a hockey tournament in his backyard for the past two years to raise money for a worthy cause, and is planning another one for Sunday.

Nick Penberthy, a senior at Williamsville North High School, decided he wanted to help other kids through a sport he loved -- hockey. Nick started playing hockey when he was 8 years old for Amherst Youth Hockey, and played there until 2008.

Not only did he play hockey but he became a referee at the age of 12 and continues to referee youth games.

Nick said he won't be playing hockey in college, "but I will probably continue to referee."

One night a few years ago, Nick thought about how cool it would be to put on an ice hockey tournament for high school students -- not only to play but to raise money for charity at the same time.

In December 2008, Nick contacted Sean Green, executive director of Hasek's Heroes, and within two weeks, his plan was in motion.

Hasek's Heroes is a not-for-profit organization that provides athletic development and educational support to children from low- to moderate-income families. Hasek's Heroes helps kids pay for equipment, ice time and traveling to out-of-town tournaments.

"The game of hockey has inspired me and has provided me with so many opportunities in my life," Nick said. "I was looking to share these positive experiences with others, and I then decided to create an event that would raise money for Hasek's Heroes and involve hockey."

This thought became a reality when Nick created the Hasek's Heroes 3 vs. 3 Backyard Hockey Classic.

The tournament takes place in Nick's East Amherst backyard on a rink that is built by his whole family. It is 35 feet wide and 100 feet long.

The first tournament, in January 2009, brought players from Williamsville North -- eight teams of three players playing in frigid temperatures. They raised $500 for Hasek's Heroes.

The second tournament drew teams from the three Williamsville high schools, Nichols School, Canisius High School and others. With all of this support, the number of teams doubled to 12, and the money raised tripled to $1,500. Local television news stations came out to film the tournament, which helped spread the word.

This year's tournament, set for Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., is expected to be the most profitable.

"Since I am currently a senior at Williamsville North High School," Nick said, "I am looking to make this tournament the most successful charity hockey event for teenagers in Buffalo." Nick's fundraising goal this year is $3,000.

Nick has been working hard soliciting donations from multiple businesses. After sending e-mails and letters and calling numerous organizations, he has received donations from Dangle Hockey, a Canadian hockey apparel company, and The Buffalo News.

Chris Taggart of Amherst saw the story last year on Channel 2 News and was inspired. He wanted to help out, so he called Channel 2 and they were able to put him in contact with Nick. Chris is providing use of his own backyard rink, which is about 10 minutes from Nick's house, to allow 24 teams to enter this year.

A total of 96 kids have signed up for the tournament -- 48 at each rink.

In the future Nick plans to study elementary education and attend college in New York.

"I will be involved in developing the minds of children every day," Nick said.

Nick has had two internships over the past year, one in a catholic elementary school and another in a public middle school.

"Teachers spend more time with a child while at school than any other adults do out of school," Nick said. "Therefore, it is imperative to be a responsible adult who models proper behavior as well as prepares the children for the rest of their schooling and lives."

Nick also plans on obtaining a coaching certification allowing him to coach high school baseball and volleyball.

"I will then be able to impact the lives of adolescents in two fields, athletics and academics," Nick said.

"I plan to continue staying involved with the sport I love, but I most look forward to applying the same passion that I have for hockey to teaching by developing and implementing creative and innovative ways to turn 'he shoots, he scores' into 'she reads, she succeeds,'" he said.


Keith Latta is a freshman at Newfane High School.

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