By Lisa Wallace
Many people would be envious of Karen Wonoski.
Wonoski is the Boston Bruins alumni coordinator and, as such, has the opportunity to spend time with some of the organization’s fan favorites.
Think of players such as Ray Bourque, Terry O’Reilly and Rick Middleton who continue to live on in Bruins lore. “Spending time with the players is awesome,” admitted Wonoski. “They all have different personalities, but are great people. That’s what you have to remember, they are all human. I love listening to their hockey stories.”
Wonoski, a Bruins fan since she was a child, saw the posting for the position, applied, and has held the role for the past seven years.
Much of Wonoski’s job entails managing ticket requests for seats in the Alumni Suite, maintaining player appearance schedules, and organizing about 30 alumni games every season. She works closely with Bruins legends 'Chief' Johnny Bucyk and 'Nifty' Rick Middleton.
Over the years Wonoski has enjoyed numerous special moments, but two stand out in particular. One was going to Milt Schmidt’s home with Bucyk. Schmidt played 16 seasons with the Bruins over the course of nearly 20 years from 1936 through 1955. Schmidt was signing a number of items that would later be donated. “He carefully signed each item, and the whole time chatted with 'Chief' about old hockey memories,” Wonoski said. “Watching and listening to those two gentlemen was something else.”
The other was being in the room when Cam Neely congratulated Rick Middleton over his No. 16 being retired. “It was a special moment to witness,” she said.
Wonoski admits she couldn’t ask for a better group of men to work with. Despite the varied generations she crosses paths with, she says she has never experienced any awkwardness of any kind. “It basically comes down to respect and trust,” she said. “When you can establish those principles there aren’t any issues.”
In addition to her work with the Bruins, Wonoski serves on the board of directors and is the registrar for the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association.
Wonoski learned about the AHIHA as a young mother as she has a son who is severely deaf. She had read about the organization, founded by Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita, in a newspaper article, and attend its yearly camp in a suburb just outside Chicago.
The experience was life-changing in many ways as Wonoski and her family began attending each year and she became more and more involved. “I’ve been involved over 20 years,” said Wonoski. “My son, Michael, is 32 now, but I’ll continue to volunteer for as long as they’ll have me.”
The camp is an opportunity for children to play hockey with others who share the same disability, but more important than the hockey is the relationships that come from the experience. “It’s very rewarding when you can watch someone come at eight years old and see how they feel being around other deaf players – they love it so much that they can’t wait to get back there the next year,” Wonoski said. “Before there was the internet, kids would write letters, and now they can communicate daily with each other. Some of my son’s best friends are halfway across the country, but they still connect from their time together at the camp.”
One of the missions of the program is to help players develop self-esteem, and it’s clear the mandate has paid off as former campers now return to volunteer their time as coaches, including Wonoski’s own son.
The U.S. Deaflympic Hockey Team is often mainly comprised of the hockey school’s varsity team, and has won two gold, a silver and two bronze medals at the past five Winter Deaflympic Games.