April 4, 2003

Paolini a True Hero off the Ice

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Arguing that the men’s hockey team is the best in the country isn’t a tall order these days. You could point to the team’s top-ranked defense, the fact that it has a record-setting Hobey Baker finalist in net, or its No. 1 position in the national polls.

Arguing that the Red has the best people of any college hockey team in the country might be even easier, though.

The community holds the team in a special place, following it to away games and always attending home games. Ithaca High School’s teams are called the Little Red. Plenty of locals turned out yesterday at a practice to cheer on their team and hope to hear their name called at the lottery for tickets to the Frozen Four.

A team — especially a college team — could easily rest on the pedestal on which the community places it. These players have classes, practices, games, and now their schedule has taken them into April, making the squad the last Ivy League winter team whose season is still in progress. These guys don’t always have time to help, and they don’t have the obligation to, either.

But they do. They are all over Ithaca making a difference, and that’s why they are not only the best team in the land, but the team with the best people.

Last night, the team, and particularly senior forward Sam Paolini, was honored by the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance for its work with the Power Play for Prevention, a program that Paolini established in the fall through his own initiative. He approached both the IBCA and Tompkins Trust Company and arranged a pledge program where the bank would donate $100 for every power play goal Cornell scored this year. With contributions from others, the pledges totaled about $300 per goal.

Then the team did its part, scoring 37 power play goals, which should drum up nearly $10,000 for the IBCA.

The Power Play for Prevention isn’t even where Paolini’s humanitarian tendencies end. Paolini also paved the way for the Special Population Skate, a joint program with the Ithaca Youth Bureau that lets handicapped children skate with members of the team at Lynah Rink.

Paolini also has worked with the Ithaca Youth Hockey Association — players from the squirt team were on hand last night picking up autographs from members of the Red — and he also speaks at local schools.

His involvement with the community goes even beyond that, and now the senior is one of five finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian award, which will be handed out a week from today at the same ceremony as the Hobey Baker award.

If Paolini and sophomore Hobey finalist David LeNeveu both ended up with the hardware, it would be only the second time that the two awards were given to teammates. While LeNeveu has already won accolades as the Ivy League Player of the Year and ECAC Co-Player of the Year, Paolini has picked up recognition as well for his achievements.

At last night’s ceremony, Christine Sanchirico, the Executive Director of the IBCA, presented Paolini with a glass puck inscribed with the words, “Power Play for Prevention, Sam Paolini, IBCA’s Hockey Hero!”

Paolini is a hockey hero for scoring the game-winning goal in the ECAC final. But his true heroism comes off the ice, where he uses his status as a leading member of the No. 1 team to make a difference in the lives of the people of Ithaca.

Archived article by Alex Fineman