Feb. 27, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

Plattsburgh State has received a lot of attention this season as the top-ranked team in Division III men’s ice hockey for most of the season, but one accolade has nothing to do with the Cardinals’ play on the rink.

The school’s athletic department focuses on the importance of community service, and the ice hockey team is active with different charity organizations and events, but one particular student-athlete stands out from the crowd in that regard.

Senior defenseman Eric Greene was recently named one of 10 finalists for the 2009 Bank Of New York Mellon Hockey Humanitarian Award, an honor awarded to those “who strive to put sports, and all of its participants, in the proper perspective.”  

Greene, like his fellow Cardinal teammates, has volunteered for various events and organizations, but the native of Cedar Knolls, N.J., took it one step further.  Three years ago, Greene was new to the team and Plattsburgh and was participating with the Cardinals in the Buddy Walk for the North Country Down Syndrome Association when he met Matt Thomson.

Thomson, a 24-year-old with Down syndrome, immediately made an impact with Greene and his teammates, and they brought him aboard as the squad’s assistant equipment manager.  Greene took the lead as a liaison between the team and Matt’s family, and a bond was formed between the pair.

“Since then, I’ve developed a close relationship with him as a liaison between him and the team,” said Greene.  “I pick him up for practice or arrange rides for him, take him to the movies or grab dinner with him – just hanging out with him.  We’ve become close friends.

“He’s our age and that’s great because we all have the same interests. We’ll have a bunch of guys over someone’s house for dinner and to watch a Sabres game and have him over.  He’s a big sports fan and that’s a common interest.  He’s just one of the guys.”

Greene said that in the beginning, asking Matt to help out with the team was for Thomson, but he has probably helped everyone more with his optimistic attitude.
“We’ve learned quite a bit from him,” said Greene.  “I know that I, Coach Emery and some of the guys on the team have taken a different perspective on life.  If we’re down in the dumps, (Matt’s) there to pick up us.  If we’ve had a tough game and we lose, he says, ‘we’re going to get them tomorrow night.’  He always has a positive outlook on the game and on life.”

Greene, a finance major, will graduate in May and settle into a position with a real estate evaluation firm in New Jersey soon after, but is hoping future players will also benefit from interaction with Thomson.

“My class and the juniors have had a lot of time with him, and I think it’s good for him and good for us,” said Greene.  “Every fall when we come back to the rink, he’s there with a smile on his face ready to take on the next season.  Hopefully, this can be a life-long thing for him and he’s always the veteran on the team.”  

As for the Hockey Humanitarian Award consideration, Greene stresses that the whole team is deserving of the honor.

“It is a very prestigious award and I’m honored to be one of the finalists, but a lot of the stuff centers around the team,” said Greene.  “I try to set things up and communicate between Matt’s family and the team, but a lot of the guys help out with rides and hanging out with him.  I think it’s more for Matty than anyone else – it’s his show.”

Greene also helped organize the Cardinal Hockey Make-a-Wish Dinner with assistant coach Steve Moffat and fellow senior Ryan Burke.  The event raised $5,200 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and it was the first year any players have helped with preparations.

On the ice, Greene has tallied three goals and four assists while starting in every game this season for the Cardinals.  He helps anchor a defensive unit that ranks third in Division III in scoring defense, allowing just 1.72 goals per game.

Plattsburgh will host fourth-seeded Brockport in the semifinals of the SUNYAC Tournament on Feb. 28.  The winner will advance to the league championship game on March 7.

The 10 finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian award will undergo lengthy interviews with the award’s committee, and the winner will be announced on April 10 in conjunction with the 2009 NCAA Division I Men’s Frozen Four.