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EL SEGUNDO, Calif . – Los Angeles forward Tyler Toffoli jumped on cardio equipment at the Los Angeles Kings weight room facility at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo and started to pump his legs.
He smiled and looked to his left and his right as he put one stride after another. Onlookers from the Barbados Special Olympics team were mesmerized by Toffoli – and the plush Kings’ open-air weight room.
“It was a good experience, seeing them and how happy they were and showing off our facility, it’s pretty incredible. And them seeing our gym, one of the better gyms in the league I would assume because it’s open roof, great equipment, it was good,” Toffoli said.
There are your regular NHL community appearances where athletes just sort of show up sign some autographs and go. And then there are events where teams and players really feel an emotional connection and a desire to do good.
This was Thursday of this past week when the Kings hosted Special Olympics teams from Barbados and Macedonia. The Special Olympics World Summer Games are being held in Los Angeles this summer and are scheduled to open July 25. The event will host 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 165 countries.
Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez were all on hand to show off the Kings’ gorgeous facility, sign autographs, answer questions from the athletes and hang out with them while they watched a video of the team’s 2014 Stanley Cup run.
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“Today when they walk into the facility and they walk into that weight room, their eyes light up and they start smiling,” Martinez said after he spoke with the Barbados team. “Especially when they saw that video. I know I was smiling and they were too, and just to be able to … there wasn’t one of them who had ever ice skated before, so to be exposed to it and be around a rink and get a taste of what we do day-in day-out, seeing that look on their face, that will make you feel good and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Kings have a unique bond with special needs children. Chris Sutter, son of L.A. coach Darryl Sutter, has Down syndrome, and has humanized the issue for a lot of players.
“We see Chris around all the time. He’s basically one of the guys on our team and comes in here and makes us laugh,” Toffoli said. “We know how Chris is. He’s incredible and for us to give back and help out with the Special Olympics and show off our facilities, it was a good experience.”
Toffoli has taken community involvement personally. According to LA Kings Insider, if the team needs player help at a local event, he jumps at the opportunity. In the summer, it’s not easy for teams to get players to partake in such spots.
Guys scatter across North America and Europe for the most part. But for Martinez, Carter (who declined to talk to reporters) and especially Toffoli, this was something they couldn’t miss.
Said Toffoli, “I love doing these things and I did a lot of these things during the season. (Senior Director of Community Relations Jennifer Pope) knows if she needs anybody to help out, I love doing them and I have no problem. “
Added Martinez, “A lot of guys don’t live here in the summer time, so, that’s why there’s only three of us. That’s kind of hard. Jen and our PR department let us know this was happening, so a few of us volunteered and thought it would be cool to come out and give a tour of the locker room and things like that. It’s a good opportunity to give back.”
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