By Logan Clow
Freelance Sports Reporter
BELLEVILLE – Matt Puempel is not your typical teenager. At just 18, his trophy case is already full and he’s a philanthropist. The native of Essex, Ont., near Windsor, is now in his third year with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League.
“He is a special individual,” says Petes’ Head Coach Mike Pelino. “He has a heart of gold and wants to do anything he can for his fellow human beings. He does volunteer work at the school and work with the less fortunate. Anytime we have a community event, Matt’s open to all of it.”
The 24th pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2011 NHL entry draft, Puempel recently started his own charity, “Puempel’s Purpose”. Every time Puempel scores a goal or gets an assist, money is donated to the Children’s Wish Foundation.
Pete Dalliday, who has broadcast Petes’ games for 15 years and has known Puempel since he came to Peterborough at 16, says the charity has gotten the city’s attention.
“It's only been a (a few months) now, and it's starting to snowball. More companies are hopping on board. They really like Matt. (He’s) mature beyond his years. He's a really personable young man and he's a fan favourite here,” said Dalliday.
The list of businesses already on board includes the Petes, the Ottawa Senators and John Newman Contracting. The Petes and Senators each donate $10 per Puempel goal, while John Newman Contracting donates $20 per goal and $5 per assist.
It’s the first time John Newman Contracting has supported any player charity, according to company co-owner Cindy Cross.
“Matt is a very nice young man. We have a young grandson who goes with us to the (Petes’) game every week, and Matt always makes it a point to come over and say ‘hi’ to him. He’s a very talented young man, but he also has a good heart,” said Cross.
The Children’s Wish Foundation was started in Ontario in 1984. It grants wishes to children between the ages of three and 17 who are coping with a life-threatening illness. Nationally, the organization grants about three wishes a day across Canada. Since 1984, the charity has granted 17,000 wishes. This is the first time Puempel has been involved with any charity. His parents say the idea to him in the summer when he researched the charity and then approached Petes’ management which quickly got the go-ahead from its executive.
“I think this is a foundation that doesn’t have so much awareness or publicity. haven’t had any personal experiences with the charity. It all comes back to what I have been able to accomplish and how my dreams have been fulfilled so far. The charity relates to that, with kids growing up and having their dream come true,” said Puempel.
To date Puempel’s Purpose has raised $7,286 with his 17 goals and 16 assists through 30 games.
Petes’ General Manager Dave Reid says it’s the first time the team has supported one of its players with a charity. Reid says Puempel approached him in the summer with the idea after hearing about Eerie Otters forward Greg McKegg’s charity called “Kegger’s Kids”. McKegg makes routine visits to the local Shriner’s Hospital.
“Matt’s a caring individual. I didn’t expect so many people to come on board (with the charity). It just shows how well Matt is respected in the hockey community and in Peterborough,” said Reid. In addition to Puempel’s Purpose and hockey, Puempel is also mentor at his high school.
“I volunteer every morning with a special-education class. I’ve done that since I’ve come into the league. I was out of high school this year, but I decided to go back and I do that in the mornings. There’s an individual I work with, and to be there an hour a day means the world to him,” said Puempel.
During the recent off-season, Puempel flew to Colorado for hip surgery by specialist Dr. Marc Philippon, the same doctor who operated on Mario Lemieux and Marian Gaborik. Puempel says there are no lingering effects from the injury, a chipped hip bone which caused fluid to build up.
Puempel plans to continue being involved with the Children’s Wish Foundation no matter where hockey takes him.
“It’s definitely something I want to continue. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life for the things I’ve been able to achieve. I really just want to give back as much as possible.”
On December 29th of last year, Puempel received an early New Years gift when Senators General Manager Bryan Murray announced Puempel had been signed to a three-year entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators along with Stefan Noesen, another first round pick by the team in the 2011 draft (21st overall).
Puempel’s trophy case is full of awards. He won CHL Rookie of the Year in 2009-2010 and was named to the OHL All-Rookie Team. He won a silver medal when played for Team Canada at the U-17 World Championship.
What’s next for Puempel? Perhaps he should start building a new trophy case. If his first three years in the OHL are any indication, more awards likely are on the way.