Anyone going to the Seattle Thunderbirds v. Everett Silvertips game at ShoWare Center tonight (Saturday, February 23) should plan to arrive extra early, to help celebrate the 15th annual Hockey Challenge to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Washington and Alaska. Five games are set to take place before the T-Birds and 'Tips drop the puck at 6:05pm, followed by an all star game featuring local celebrities (see more information below).

The Hockey Challenge has been going strong since 1998, when the T-Birds teamed up with a number of Microsoft employees for a day of fun and games. The event has raised more than $4.2 million for RMHC, which provides families a place to live while their children undergo medical treatments at nearby hospitals. Seattle's Ronald McDonald House can be found near Seattle Children's Hospital.

(Photo: RMCH)

I asked Ian Henry, the Seattle Thunderbirds Director of Public and Media Relations, what inspires the T-Birds to continue this partnership, now in its 15th year, especially with all of the work that goes into the daylong event. He replied, You are right, it is labor intensive, but it is all worth it. The money raised from the challenge goes directly to helping children and families dealing with life threatening illnesses. We hope that the illnesses these families have to face is made a little bit easier knowing that they will have a place to stay, at the Ronald McDonald House, and that they can focus on getting their loved ones healthy. Being able to use the sport of hockey to help these families is something that, as an organization, we take great care to make happen.

The Hockey Challenge goes beyond a day of games. Seattle Thunderbirds players attend an annual dinner at the local Ronald McDonald House, spending a fun evening with the children who are living there while undergoing treatment. The T-Birds' YouTube Channel features a number of videos showing some of the shenanigans that take place during and after dinner, and it's difficult to tell who's having more fun, the kids or players, some of whom are also living away from home for the first time. Henry says this type of community involvement helps players in their development. It teaches our players what kind of impact they can have in the community and how they can make a difference in someone's life, he said. It shows them that if they are able to step outside their comfort zone, they can truly make a difference.

Henry shares that his favorite Hockey Challenge memory each year is the dinner, saying, It's so heartwarming to see our players interact with the kids staying at the Ronald McDonald House. Around our players, the kids turn into kids again and forget that they are battling a serious illness. Parents get to see their kids smile and have a good time and just be kids.

(Photo: RMCH)

Although the Hockey Challenge features games all day, the big draws are the T-Birds game, this year against the Everett Silvertips as the two teams fight for a playoff spot, and the celebrity all star game afterward. Henry gave us a preview of the celebrity teams. This year, Dennis Bounds (KING 5 News Anchor) is coaching Team White against Team Blue, coached by Ian Furness from Sports Radio 950 KJR AM. KING 5 Reporter John Langeler will be a member of Team White, while Bill Wixey from KCPQ 13 will be a member of Team Blue. Steve the Producer from the BJ Shea Morning Experience on 99.9 KISW is on Team Blue. Former T-Birds playing include Jamie Huscroft, Regan Mueller, Brett Duncan, Blake Knox, Ryan Gibbons and Danny Lorenz. Actor Cameron Bancroft is also joining us this year and he will be on Team White.

In addition to the games, the celebrity team members will be available for an autograph meet and greet session from 5:00pm 5:30pm at ShoWare Center. All celebrity jerseys will also be autographed and auctioned off. Former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson, who has taken part in the Hockey Challenge in years past, will also autograph a jersey to be auctioned off.

The last time I checked, there were a number of tickets available to the T-Birds v. Tips game, which includes access to all of the Hockey Challenge festivities. To snap yours up, visit the T-Birds website by clicking here. To learn more about the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Washington and Alaska, please click here.

Another note: The Seattle Thunderbirds Community Sports Foundation will be selling raffle tickets at the game for a Colorado Avalanche autographed by NHL legend Joe Sakic. Proceeds will benefit the Kent Relay for Life. Click here for more information.

Here's the schedule for this year's Hockey Challenge:

Game 1 Manny's Mayhems vs. Lucille's Lightening, 8:55am (Georgetown Brewery Sponsored Microsoft Women's Teams)

(Members of Manny's Mayhem & Lucille's Lightening drop the gloves on New Day Northwest, with host Margaret Larson caught in the middle! Photo: Su Ring)

Game 2 Microsoft Finance and LCA vs. Xbox Live, 10:35am

Game 3 Windows vs. Exchange, 12:15pm

Game 4 Interactive Entertainment Business (IEB) vs. Tiny Zamboni Hockey Club, 1:55pm

Game 5 MS IT vs. DevDiv, 3:35pm

Game 6 Seattle Thunderbirds vs. Everett Silvertips, 6:05pm

Game 7 Local Celebrity and T-Birds Alumni All-Star Game, immediately following T-Birds/Silvertips game.

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