Here comes the Hawk: Savard to bring charity event to Lake Forest Sportscars
Denis Savard, the third-highest scorer in Chicago Blackhawks history, is taking his shot at helping children and veterans through the Denis Savard Foundation, which will hold an event Oct. 21 at Lake Forest Sportscars.
Updated: November 15, 2011 8:36AM
When Denis Savard arrived in Chicago at age 19 in 1980, the Chicago Blackhawks first-round draft choice had never spoken a word of English.
“My first word was copasetic – it means everything’s fine,” said Savard, who hailed from Verdun in the French-speaking province of Quebec.
By the time his Hall of Fame career wrapped up in 1997, his creative play on the ice had sparked a new English phrase -- the “Savard Spin-O-Rama,” where the center spun with the puck to avoid defenders, a daring move that often concluded with a back-handed goal.
A few years ago, the well-spoken Blackhawks ambassador created yet another new term: The Denis Savard Foundation. And on Friday, Oct. 21, his non-profit will put on the Monte Carlo Charity Gala at Lake Forest Sportscars in Lake Bluff.
“I was given so much here in Chicago,” said Savard, whose foundation is designed to help both children and veterans. “I’m blessed to have a daughter who’s 23 and healthy. But my nephew’s son is 10 and doesn’t talk. I’ve gotten to meet some of the guys came back from Iraq and Afghanistan. For me to give back is a no-brainer.”
The Monte Carlo Charity Gala -- which features honorary co-chairs Melissa and Steve Esposito of Lake Forest, along with local chairpersons Tina Ballis, Ada Boras, Lynne Kennedy, Leslie Gantos and Lori Rozdolsky -- anticipates between 250-300 people patronizing its roulette wheel, blackjack tables and other games of chance. The Buckinghams will play, Lovell’s, The Deerpath Inn, Southgate Cafe and Philly G’s will provide food, and former pro athletes such as Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Dan Hampton and one-time Blackhawk right winger Marty LaPointe will chat with attendees.
“When you’re playing blackjack, there’s a Ferrari next to you and a Blackhawk,’’ said Francie Portrey, president of Anything’s Possible, who handles Denis Savard Foundation events.
Savard -- an 8 handicap -- has held a charity golf tournament for two years at the Edgewood Valley Country Club outside of Chicago, which has drawn former NHL stars from Montreal Canadiens forward Pete Mahovlich to New York Rangers defenseman Brad Park. His foundation will also run Cabo for a Cause, a week-long trip to Mexico in February, where Savard, Hampton and other former pros will serve as coaches in a beach Olympics.
‘Pull them back’
A quarter century ago, Savard competed in a beach Olympics at Oak Street Beach, where the last event featured a tug of war between the Blackhawks and the Bears.
“We’ve got no chance against the Bears, right? There are six of us at 1,200 pounds and five of them at 1,300 pounds,” Savard recalled. “The big guys are trying to pull us. But we dug in with our feet and we’d say ‘1-2-3’ and pull them back a foot. We ended up winning.
“They (the Bears) argued afterward that it wasn’t fair – they didn’t have enough people.”
When Savard started playing for the Blackhawks (ironically, his jersey when he first played at age six sports a Blackhawks logo and is framed in his office), he found the pro game easier than junior hockey in Canada.
“The pro game was more organized – there was more of a plan. In juniors, people would try to take your head off. They were told to get me out of there. In the pros there were enforcers on every team.”
In the summer of 1990, the third-leading scorer in Blackhawks history was dealt to Montreal -- Savard’s hometown team who was expected to pick him before the Blackhawks in the draft a decade earlier but didn’t -- for defenseman Chris Chelios. Despite being hobbled by the flu, Savard fondly remembers playing the All-Star Game in Chicago Stadium that winter. Not only was it a homecoming of sorts after his controversial trade, but Wayne Messmer’s singing of the National Anthem on the eve of the Gulf War and the crowd’s frenzy nearly lifted the roof off of the venerable building.
“I came out and played one period and went back to the hotel,” he recalled. “I was supposed to be on a flight to Montreal that day. But the flu was so bad I didn’t get out of bed for three days.”
Two years later, he captured the 1993 Stanley Cup with the Canadiens, though he was injured for most of the five-game series against Los Angeles. He later coached the Blackhawks twice, and now serves as an ambassador for the team with other former greats such as Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita -- the only two players ahead of him on the team’s all-time scoring list.
Savard’s Oak Brook office is a memorabilia haven. Framed jerseys hang on the walls. The Canadiens one, which he wore during the Stanley Cup victory, is speckled with blood. An adjacent Blackhawks’ jersey – framed because he wore it when he scored his 1,000th point – features black marks from being hit with opponents’ sticks. A painting behind his desk by his wife Mona shows Savard wearing his three different NHL jerseys, his daughter Tanya raising his No. 18 retired jersey banner at Chicago Stadium and the entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where Savard was inducted in 2000.
Savard is looking forward to the Lake Forest Sportscars evening. Since no ice rink will be on hand for the 50-year-old to revisit his spin-o-rama days, Portrey wondered if he could be persuaded to entertain the crowd in another manner.
“Are you going to sing The Buckinghams’ ‘Kind of a Drag?” she asked.
Savard winked. “We’ll see,” he said.
The Monte Carlo Charity Gala costs $150 a ticket. Please call (708) 450-1710 for more information