Simpson, Gaunce lead on and off the ice in Cleveland | TheAHL.com
📝 by Kailey Lane | AHL On The Beat
Being active and involved members of the Northeast Ohio community is just as important as being team leaders for Cleveland Monsters players Dillon Simpson and Brendan Gaunce.
The two spend their time off the ice during the 2022-23 season putting efforts into volunteer work and partnering with local organizations to impact Cleveland one day at a time.
Simpson, a five-year Monsters veteran and current team captain, has been involved in philanthropic work since a young age. His father, former NHL player Craig Simpson, hosts an annual charity golf tournament.
“Growing up, my dad had a golf tournament for spinal cord injury that I’m still a part of now, so that is something within the family we tried to do [all together],” said Simpson.
In college at the University of North Dakota, Simpson was able to explore his own philanthropic path and found the Special Olympics. This experience immediately had an impact on him, and Simpson fell in love with this type of work. Ultimately, it led him to the idea of founding Simmer’s Sidekicks.
Simmer’s Sidekicks is an initiative which highlights athletes, volunteers, and families from Special Olympics Ohio. Every Saturday home game, a family from the organization is provided tickets, food, and Monsters gear courtesy of Simpson, as well as a feature on the Humongotron center-hung video board at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and the chance to join the Cave Crew wishing the team good luck as they hit the ice.
Following the game, Simpson hosts a meet-and-greet with the participant and their family.
“Something I have noticed since day one is the Cleveland Monsters do a great job with all kinds of initiatives,” said Simpson. “It even goes through the summer when the guys are not here. They always throw their resources and staff behind it because they are passionate. No matter if it is Simmers Sidekicks or volunteering with the local food bank, we are always there to help.”
In Simpson’s eyes, players are a direct reflection of what you want your team to encompass. In this case, his hope is that his own charity work will motivate other players to do something in the community and give back. For Simpson, the work means so much to him because of how far it can go in the community he now calls home.
Another player who wanted to leave an impact in the community through something meaningful was Gaunce. Together with his fiancée Heidi Henderson and their mutual love for dogs and all animals, a passion was discovered.
“We decided that we wanted to help out a little bit more,” said Gaunce. “We wanted to use our platform and bring awareness to different things that we cherish and love.”
Points for Paws is an initiative that the couple started in collaboration with a local shelter, the Cleveland Animal Protective League. The couple volunteers their time, showcases adoptable animals every month and donates $100 for each point that Gaunce records during the season.
“We were thinking of something to do for the city,” said Gaunce. “My brother (Cameron) played here for a couple of years and loved the city. I played here last year and also [fell in] love with Cleveland. We figured why not give back? We can, we are young enough and fortunate enough [to be able to do so].”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaunce found that his own dog helped him get through isolation. With that driving passion, Gaunce wanted to bring more awareness to the help animals could provide and let people know about the great shelters in the Northeast Ohio area.
No matter the cause, the common thread remains that both Gaunce’s and Simpson’s initiatives were driven by the players themselves. Along with the backing of the Monsters organization, both programs were able to come to life and begin to give back to a deserving community. In addition to being leaders on the ice, Gaunce and Simpson work hard outside of the rink motivating young players alike to give back to the community that supports that.