On Tuesday, a St. Cloud ten year old was resigned to the fact that she would not be able to play hockey this year due to her family's financial situation. By Thursday morning she was all signed up -- and paid up -- thanks to a simple tweet by a local hockey dad and some help from former NHL star, Theo Fleury.

Local father Brent Pakkala has been a fixture of the St. Cloud hockey scene for a number of years as a father of hockey-playing kids in Sauk Rapids and as the official scorer for SCSU hockey. His passion for the game goes back to his childhood, and is evidenced by a large collection of rare hockey sweaters that Pakkala wears proudly to the rink.

On Tuesday night, Pakkala was told by a parent of his daughter's best friend that their daughter would not be able to play hockey this winter. It was a matter of economics, with six children in the family making it impossible for each to play all the sports they would like to otherwise.

Three of the girls in the family play hockey, and a difficult decision had to be made as the girls' grandfather could afford to pay the $435 fee for just one of their hockey seasons. It was decided that the oldest would get to play this season, and the rest would have to wait until next year.

Knowing the girl's passion for the sport of hockey, and realizing she was the reason for his own daughter's interest in the game, Pakkala had a hard time digesting the news. "I couldn't sleep Tuesday night," Pakkala said. "I was up all night, just watching movies and brainstorming, trying to think of a way to help this girl play the game she loves."

Grasping at straws, Pakkala sent a Tweet to his favorite hockey player of all time, Theo Fleury. Since the two had never met, or spoken, Pakkala says he kept his hopes low.

"I didn't expect to hear an answer from him," Pakkala said. "I assumed he was too busy."


Sauk Rapids Youth Hockey Players via Facebook
Sauk Rapids Youth Hockey Players via Facebook

Instead, the response was quick. Fleury sent Pakkala a direct message, asking the hockey dad to tell the hockey star the story of a young hockey player Fleury had never met.


The results were amazing.

Within 45 minutes, Pakkala had a message from a man in British Columbia offer $150 toward the girl's registration. Shortly after, a woman in New York offered a donation of $250, followed by a friend offering up $500.


But amazingly, the generosity was only beginning.

"On Thursday morning I got a call from another woman in Colorado, who informed me that she had called the association and paid for the entire fee," Pakkala said.

Overwhelmed with the outpouring of generosity, Pakkala reached out to Fleury and asked what he should do with the extra money. The two decided that it would stay with the association and go toward future seasons for the girls.

A little later on Thursday, Pakkala got a phone call from an Alberta area code. It was Fleury, calling to ask if there was "anything else he could do to help."

Pakkala was stunned that a hero of his growing up was reaching out to him now, offering more help than he has already given. Fleury says that his well-documented rough upbringing has made him compassionate to those who are less fortunate.

"If I were playing these days," Fleury said, "It never would have worked (financially)."

What Fleury said next blew Pakkala away.

"I would like to come down to Minnesota and raise some more money for youth hockey in St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and the surrounding area," Fleury said. "You never know, the next Wayne Gretzky could be walking among you."

Pakkala noted that Fleury typically commands a $12,500 speaking fee and says he wasn't sure how that would work out. That question was answered almost immediately.

"(Fleury) said that he would speak for no charge," Pakkala said. "He said that if we could get him to Minnesota, he'd be more than happy to do it."

Pakkala is hoping to iron out the details with Fleury and get him to town for a November series at SCSU to speak about his charitable causes.

Pakkala sums it up in his letter to Fleury on the former NHL player's Facebook page:

"People often ask me what I invest in. I think most people are missing the point completely as they invest their money in stocks, bonds, etc., ( no offense to anyone by the way) when really we should be investing our time, money, love, empathy and understanding in other people. So, my answer is that I am investing in others. The return on investment is much greater than any financial amount can bring in return.

For more information on Theo Fleury click here.

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