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November 23, 2012 | 9:57am ET
Richards at forefront of relief
 New York Rangers star Brad Richards among those helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

NEW YORK -- Rockaway is a place I am proud to consider a home. I grew up spending everyday of every summer there; from the day after the last school bell rang, to being forced to get a pre-first-day of school haircut at any barber shop on the way back to Northern New Jersey.

Rockaway is a unique place. It has both beautiful beaches, as well as subway stops. If you look out over the bay on one side, you can see the New York City skyline in the distance, and if you look the other way it's infinitely blue. Just ocean as far as you can see.

There wasn't just one area that suffered at the hands of Superstorm Sandy, but this area is the one that I have a special connection to. My grandparents still own a house there, and I still spend a lot of time there. I still have very close friends that live there, or did until the storm hit a few weeks ago.

The night the storm hit, I frantically texted all of my friends. My family was safe in North Jersey, but nobody in Rockaway evacuated, mostly because Rockaway is the type of community where if you live there, chances are that most of your relatives do as well. There was nowhere for these people to go, and more importantly nobody could have expected what would follow.

At around 8:30 PM, on the night of the storm, I was texting with a close friend of mine. I asked him how things were holding up and he replied, "Basement is submerged, and it's making its way up. All our cars are dead."

He followed by saying, "Just please pray."

When I talked to a few friends the next day, they all said they truly believed they were going to die.

The devastation in that community is unimaginable. I drove down, taking my car through puddles and debris to check on my grandparents place the next day. What I saw will stick with me forever. Cars strewn about everywhere, on lawns, in random living rooms. People drinking out of fire hydrants for cleaner water. Some blocks had just burned to the ground; no houses, no cars, just ash.

Then I saw on Twitter that New York Rangers forward Brad Richards was in Breezy Point, a community right next to Rockaway that was hit even harder with over 100 houses burning to dust.

Brad, more so than any player, has been on the forefront of relief. From cleaning up houses and debris in Breezy Point, to working with other members of the Rangers in Staten Island to put on a charity clinic, to even bartending with Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger to raise money for Rockaway relief efforts.

All of this, while seeking no press, or even a thank you. He did it to truly help.

Now, it is important to note that he is not the only player to lend his support for relief efforts. Every team in the area has done something to show their support, but Brad just shocked me by physically going down to an area that was extremely devastated. He got his hands dirty, he didn't just tweet a link, or donate money. He helped people begin to put their lives back together.

Brad will joined by a ton of other players, some superstars, for a charity game in Atlantic City. "Operation Hat Trick" will bring together stars like Richards, Steve Stamkos, Corey Perry, Daniel Alfredsson, Scott Hartnell, Bobby Ryan, and the classic goaltending matchup of Henrik Lundqvist squaring off against Martin Brodeur.

"I think its great that we as players can do something for the area," Richards explained over the phone on Monday.

"To be able to help out in any way, and give these people one day of hockey, and hopefully raise a lot of money, it's great."

The event will take place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

If you stepped into the Rangers locker room, one of the first things you would notice as how quiet and soft spoken Richards is. He doesn't talk like a guy that has won a Conn Smythe trophy, and been one of the most consistent playmakers in the league every season.

And that is what has been the most impressive, that even while trying to get him to brag, he still remains incredibly modest, and will take no credit.

"My role is no bigger than anybody else's. Maybe because I just used my name, but everybody that is going down there has been involved in trying to convince players, find the right time and right place, and promote it," explicated Richards.

"That's the biggest role I'm trying to do. Promote it and raise awareness for it."

Todd Fedoruk, a former NHL enforcer now spending retirement in the Atlantic City area, organized the event, and originally contacted Richards and some of the other guys that first lent their name to the cause.

More than anything, I wanted to thank Richards, and every other player that has lent their support to the communities hit really hard by this. They should know their good deeds are not going unrecognized, and these people, whose lives are sitting waterlogged on their front lawns (that is, if their house is still standing), are truly grateful for the help and support they have gotten.

It also puts a smile on their face to see their favorite athlete helping their community.

Maybe Rockaway will never be the same, but they are as strong a community as I have ever seen. A community of first responders who suffered great losses with the attacks on September 11, 2001, and again just a few weeks later when a mechanical malfunction caused a plane to crash into a residential neighborhood. The crash occurred on the same block that 11 years later would be ravaged by fire, and ultimately burnt to ash because of the storm.

But Rockaway, like so many other neighborhoods, will persevere, and the support of professional athletes pledging not only their money, but also their time, will help these areas recover greatly.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.
 

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