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Former Flyers take the ice in a benefit game

Ten years after the sudden death of one of his hockey players, longtime Cherokee High coach Scott McKay still gets emotional when he talks about Jeff Burd.

Ten years after the sudden death of one of his hockey players, longtime Cherokee High coach Scott McKay still gets emotional when he talks about Jeff Burd.

Burd, McKay said, was a "coach's dream" because of his work ethic and the way he treated people.

When Burd's father, Pete, attends a Cherokee game now, the Chiefs players skate next to him by the boards and tap their sticks against the glass at intermission, a sign of respect for him and his son.

"I have to look away," McKay said last week, "because I get too choked up."

Tragically, Burd, 16, died in 2004 of meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

The Flyers alumni and Cherokee alumni are doing their best to honor the young man's memory. On Sunday, the sixth annual Jeff Burd Memorial game will be held at the Skate Zone in Voorhees at 3:40 p.m.

This is the first year the former Flyers have become involved in the event.

"Everyone loves playing the alumni because we always hang out after the game and chat and tell stories, and it becomes an event people enjoy," said Brian Propp, a former Flyers star who will play in the game against the former Cherokee players.

"It's going to be a challenge because we're playing against young players," the 55-year-old Propp added.

Proceeds from the game will support the Jeff Burd Memorial Fund, the National Meningitis Association, USA Wounded Warriors, and Wings of Steel Sled Hockey.

One of Burd's teammates and best friends, Zach Sawyer, is coming in from Africa for the holidays, and he will play for Cherokee's alumni team. Sawyer coaches a roller hockey team in Namibia, northwest of South Africa.

"We grew up playing hockey together. From peewee to high school, we were always on the same line," said Sawyer, 27, who centered a line that had Burd as his left wing. "He was always kind of an idol to me. He was resilient; he took a hit and kept going, and he was a goal scorer and a great kid off the ice, and someone you strived to be."

Sawyer, who - like Burd - grew up in Marlton, has played in three of these benefit games, but he calls this one the most exciting because of the presence of the former Flyers. In the past, the game has matched former Cherokee players against each other.

"It's a bigger stage than ever before," said Sawyer, whose late father, Bill, used to coach the Cherokee team. "It's an important game because it's a way to remember Jeff."

McKay, the coach and the event's co-organizer, recalled Burd fondly.

"He was a brilliant kid, and he was going to do something special with his life," McKay said.

McKay said Burd never missed a practice until the 2004 day he called his coach and said he wasn't feeling well.

"He told me he thought he had the flu and felt like he got hit by a bus," McKay said. "The next morning, he still felt rundown, and his mom made a doctor's appointment and he went back to sleep.

"He never woke up."

Propp, the former Flyers great, and McKay have known each other for 30-plus years; each served as the other's best man in their weddings. So when McKay approached Propp about having the Flyers' alumni play in this year's benefit game, the former left winger began making calls to former Flyers.

Propp, Joe Watson, Bob Kelly, Todd Fedoruk, Ray Allison, and Terry Carkner are among the former Flyers who will participate, along with former Philadelphia Phantoms enforcer Frank "The Animal" Bialowas. During the holiday weeks, the Flyers alumni have taken meals to the homeless and served food to hospice patients, among other charitable endeavors.

McKay said he asked for Propp's assistance because he was "tired of raising $2,700 or $3,000." He hopes to raise $12,000 to $15,000 with this year's game and subsequent after-party.

After the benefit game, there will be a party from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Victory Bar & Grill on Route 73 in West Berlin. A $15 donation is requested for the game, a $20 donation to the after-party, or $30 for both.

For ticket information, contact McKay at 609-377-6866 or email Tickets also can be purchased at the door.