As each hockey season comes and goes, it goes without saying that each year the salary cap will continue to rise as the cost of living does as well. With the hefty contracts that some of these players end up getting offered, a lot of them end up making more in one year than what the superstars of yesterday made throughout their entire careers. Although their contracts in the past were considered larger at the time, players of today have been blessed with playing in this multi-million dollar era. As the players of yesterday helped pave the way for players of today on the ice, they also helped show them what it means to be an NHL player off the ice.
St. Louis Blues assistant coach Scott Mellanby started giving back and making a difference while he was playing in the NHL and continues to do so now that he is retired and working with one of his former teams. It was a lot tougher to get a foundation up and running when the players weren’t making a ridiculous amount of money, but Mellanby worked with what he had and made it possible while playing in the NHL and is glad to see the players of today getting involved more than ever.
“One thing with professional athletes and organizations is that they are pretty involved in their communities. They try to do what they can when it comes to getting their players involved with the charity outings in the community,” explained Mellanby.
“I started in the NHL in 1986 so I would say that was when I first started giving back to the community. It was nothing really above and beyond from what anyone else was doing from an athlete’s standpoint, but we got requests for golf and charity events.”
“I think because of the increase in the player’s salaries over the years, there’s a lot more philanthropy stuff going on, with agents getting their clients involved with charity work and wanting them to start their own foundations,” continued the Montreal, Quebec native. “I think it’s fantastic what they are doing nowadays because it wasn’t like that back in the day.”
While playing with the Florida Panthers, Scott and his wife learned that their son, Carter, was diagnosed with autism. Although it took him and his wife some time to get through the tragic side of things, this never held Scott back or got in his way. It was just another challenge that he would be faced with in life and he ended up using his social status to help benefit his son and every other family who has and will be put in the same situation as him.
“My wife and I talked about it and being a so-called celebrity and having the opportunity to raise some money and do some things. We felt like it was the right thing to do and felt like we had the power like a celebrity would,” recounted the Flyers’ 27th overall pick in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.
In 1999, Mellanby and his wife Susan established the Mellanby Autism Foundation; a non-profit organization that provides direct care services to individuals and families who have been affected by autism.
“We get credited for starting foundations and doing this kind of stuff. Obviously for us there was a direct relationship to our family so it was a natural thing to do, but there are a lot of athletes and non-athletes that are doing what they can nowadays to get involved with charities even if they weren’t affected by it and I think those people are very special for wanting to get involved and they deserve a lot of credit for that,” expressed Mellanby.
He started his Foundation while playing with the Panthers, an organization he shared some memorable and historic moments with over the years; whether it be scoring the first ever goal in franchise history in 1993 or starting the “rat trick” craze during the 1996 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. He was always appreciated in every city that he played in and he took advantage of it. He did whatever he could for the Florida Panthers community and the fans that supported the team and he would be rewarded by the organization in a way he could not imagine.
“About one year after my son was diagnosed with autism we were at an autism event with the team and I was sitting with Wayne Huizenga, the owner of the Panthers at the time,” elucidated Mellanby.
“I got up and gave a little speech and announced that we were directly affected by it with our son being diagnosed. As soon as I finished, Wayne made a $250,000 donation to our Foundation on the spot which was very amazing and very special to us,” he continued.
“I was an employee at the time playing for him and you don’t usually have that relationship with the owner of the team. At this point I played for him for about four or five years so at the time it was surreal and it meant a lot because it was his way of showing me that he appreciated what I was doing for the team and the area. It was a really emotional night for me, it was very difficult.”
Mellanby was also involved with another project called Athletes Against Autism with former NHL goalies Byron Dafoe and Olaf Kolzig. Athletes Against Autism was a group of athletes who were personally touched by autism and wanted to help raise awareness and funds for autism research, treatment and education programs. Although it is no longer around, this was one of the things that Scott Mellanby is most proud of being a part of.
“Even though AAA was only around for three or four years it was one of the things I was very proud to be a part of. Just working with Byron Dafoe and Olaf Kolzig was a great time,” expressed Mellanby.
“It’s not always just about the amount of money that you raise because raising awareness is just as important. In the first year we had about two or three NHL buildings that allowed us to have an Autism Awareness Night and by our final year we were up to about half the teams in the league.”
Currently working with the Blues as an assistant coach, Scott Mellanby continues to do what he can in a city that opened up their arms to him and his family. He gets to teach the young players of today what it means to be an NHL player off the ice and a role model that not just the hockey community can look up to, but the entire community as a whole. He continues to raise money and awareness for autism, but also helps out other charities and causes when possible. He helped make a difference in the hockey world and the cities that he played for while he was playing in the NHL and he still continues to do so even though his playing career is over.
To learn more about the Mellanby Autism Foundation, visit http://www.mellanbyautismfoundation.org/