Matt Carkner receives the ASHA Inspiration Award from ASHA President, Mike Hickey as Carkner's wife Kary and their two sons Chase and Corbin look on. Photo by: Jon Tenca/Puck Stopper Photography
Unlike some other honors in the sports world, the American Special Hockey Association’s (ASHA) Inspiration Award isn’t presented annually. This particular recognition is only given when a person goes above and beyond when it comes to dedicated support of ASHA and its member programs.
With that in mind, it was far more than a formality Dec. 13 when the award was given to Matt Carkner of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers immediately before the team’s home game against the Hershey Bears. It was, however, a surprise to the honoree when he learned that many of his family members were in attendance. (It was no surprise, however, that Matt’s brother-in-law was there; Bryan Helmer is an assistant coach with the Bears.)
According to ASHA, the award was presented to Carkner for his years of dedicated service to ASHA programs. He not only has been involved with ASHA in the United States but also in Canada – in particular the Capital City Condors in Ottawa, back during his playing days with the Senators.
After receiving the honor, Carkner stated, “Getting involved in ASHA programs has been a great experience for me. Seeing the smiles on kids' faces when they get to play a game they love is truly a rewarding experience. Being recognized with the ASHA Inspiration Award is above and beyond anything I ever expected. I'm just happy to be able to do this for some wonderful kids.”
Carkner most recently has dedicated his time to the Long Island Blues (while playing for the New York Islanders) and the Southern Connecticut Storm (while playing for Bridgeport). Those familiar with his philanthropy say he has spent seemingly countless hours on the ice with players in the program – and he didn’t stop there. Carkner has made his seats available to ASHA players and their parents so they can watch games, and he has facilitated postgame tours of the locker room.
“Matt gives our players star treatment and makes them feel included, which is so important for this population,” said Mike Hickey, president of ASHA. “Our players look at Matt as their new buddy or best friend, and that is exactly the way Matt views them.”
Deb McQuilkin, Program Director of the Southern Connecticut Storm, stated, "We could not have been more pleased when Matt got in touch with us. He endeared himself to the Storm program immediately, becoming an instant role model and friend to the players on our team. Matt and his family are an important part of our Storm Special Hockey program in so many ways. What a wonderful gift to our special athletes and our program.”
Matt's wife, Kary, said, “Ever since I've known Matt, over 20 years now, he has always had the biggest heart and love for kids. So it didn't surprise me for a second when he got involved with kids playing special hockey – it’s the perfect fit for him! After all, Matt is just a big kid himself and his passion is hockey.”
Mike Russo, Program Director of the Long Island Blues, noted, “Matt goes over and above for the players and their families. He is a huge supporter of Special Hockey and loves skating and hanging out with the kids. He is an ambassador for sport.”
Hickey concluded, “Some people in life talk the talk, but Matt Carkner walks the walk. It is obvious why over his career he has been a great leader on and off the ice. I believe this is why many players are picking up on what Matt has done and are now following his lead.”
For example, Thomas Hickey has brought Long Island Blues players to games, as Matt had done in Long Island. Additionally, Thomas Hickey and Calvin DeHaan both were involved with the Long Island Blues when Matt was still with the New York Islanders. Even in Ottawa, Kyle Turris is now doing the work Matt started with the Capital City Condors, an ASHA affiliate in Canada.