‘It was a perfect fit’: Hockey tournament to help benefit grievers after tragedy

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Backyard Classic, a hockey tournament for all ages, comes back April 6 and 7 at Buffalo Riverworks, for it’s 15th year.

“We’ve gone from a backyard to behind a restaurant, to Riverworks, then Canalside and back to Riverworks,” Chris Taggart said, the tournament director for the Backyard Classic. “It’s a dream come true really.”

Nearly 600 skaters will hit the ice this year. It’s a tournament that gets all ages and families involved. But the fun had on the ice is just as important as the fundraising aspect behind the tournament.

“[We’ve raised] $280,000 and given to all different charities over the years,” Taggart said.

But this year may be the most important to Taggart. Despite starting the tournament in his own backyard, the fundraising this year hits closest to home. All proceeds will now go to P.U.N.T Pediatric Cancer Collaborative.

“I knew it was going to be a perfect fit for what I had going on for the Backyard Classic… I lost my daughter almost two years ago, on March 7, to a car accident.”

Taggart’s daughter Lauren was 17 years old when she was tragically killed. Chris’ family, including Lauren’s two sisters, lost their shining light. And that darkness became nearly impossible to walk through.

“I didn’t have the avenue that a lot of people have in the bereavement and grief process that P.U.N.T. provides for a lot of people in WNY,” he said. “So when I met with them, I knew it was a perfect fit. And we’re looking to turn this into Lauren’s Tournament moving forward and do it in memory of her.”

P.U.N.T. helps families through all aspects of a cancer diagnosis, and that includes if the child doesn’t survive. Chris knows the importance of getting help when you lose a child, and P.U.N.T. immediately wraps their arms around those local families.

“There’s lots of community support for a child battling cancer, but once the child wasn’t in the equation anymore, a lot of that support naturally fell away,” Gwen Mysiak said, the executive director of P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative. “So we really made it our mission within our organization to kind of scoop up those bereaved families, those shattered hearts. We provide peer and social support, create a network of opportunity, bring in keynote speakers and make them realize, most importantly, that they’re not alone in walking this journey.”

Taggart hopes to raise $50,000 for P.U.N.T.

Mysiak said the money will help more families feel less isolated. One day, she hopes to even open a family grief center in WNY.

“Friends, relatives may think that over the years things fade away (and) it will get better over time, but it doesn’t get any better,” Taggart said. “It’s almost two years now, and it feels like it happened just yesterday. Although you may not think about it as much as time goes by, the pain and the memories still hurt deep. So it’s nice to have an organization in WNY like P.U.N.T. for people to take advantage of for bereavement and grief counseling.”

If you’d like to sign up for the Backyard Classic, click here.

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Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor who came back home to Buffalo in 2018. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.

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