News | 6/10/2014 11:24:57 AM | ROCHESTER AMERICANS

Amerks Hall of Famer Gates Orlando

The Rochester Press-Radio club celebrated its 65th annual Day of Champions Dinner last night at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, where more than 20 individuals, ranging from area athletes and media members to community service leaders, were honored for their remarkable contributions to sport and other charitable endeavors.

Among the list of honorees included Rochester Americans Hall of Famer Gates Orlando, who was presented with this year’s Christine Wagner Welch Inspiration Award. While the recurring theme of the evening mostly paid tribute to the outstanding on-field performances and athletic achievements, Orlando simply took the opportunity to say thank you for a second shot at life.

The award honors a Christine Wagner Welch, who at a young age conquered the lingering effects of polio and regained her ability to walk. Her inspiring story soon resulted in her father, Charles Wagner, and 11 other members of the Rochester sportswriting and sportscasting scene, forming the Press-Radio Club as a way of generating funds to help others like Christine and for various local children’s charities.

Orlando, a Calder Cup winner with the Amerks in 1987 and a two-time hockey Olympian for the Italian national team, overcame a series of personal challenges when a rare form of heart failure nearly cost the now 51-year-old his life. On April 4, 2012, Orlando became the first patient in the region to undergo a life-saving artificial heart transplant and remained tethered to a machine in the cardiac ward at the University of Rochester Medical Center for 208 days waiting for a suitable donor. Nearly a year later, Orlando’s prayers were answered, when on Feb. 4, 2013, a human heart was inserted into his chest, restoring his and his family’s long overdue life back to a state of normalcy and happiness.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the incredible staff at strong hospital, and of course, my donor and his family,” said an emotional Orlando during his acceptance speech. “I just wanted to live, to watch my kids grow up, to be a grandparent and one day walk my daughters down the aisle. There is no greater gift than the gift of life and I will forever be grateful for this award.”

Since his miraculous recovery, Orlando has regained his health and returned to work as professional scout for the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League. Now an active ambassador of organ donation, Orlando works to continue to raise awareness for the initiative while encouraging others to register as organ donors in an effort to save lives.

Orlando also became the second Amerk in four years to receive the Christine Wagner Welch Inspiration Award since the late Craig Charron, who was honored posthumously following his passing to stomach cancer in October 2010.

Orlando, whose career spanned a total of 16 years, played parts of five seasons (1983-88) in Rochester and posted 156 points on 64 goals and 92 assists in 120 career games with the Amerks. After taking the Amerks to the Calder Cup in 1987, the two-time 20-goal scorer played one final season in Rochester before spending the next 10 between the professional Italian and Swiss leagues. Orlando currently ranks 47th in scoring all-time among forwards in franchise history, and along with Charron, was inducted into the Amerks Hall of Fame as the Class of 2008.

Also joining Orlando among the special guests at the head table was longtime Buffalo resident and Amerks/Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta, who signed autographs and mingled with fans prior to dinner. Kaleta also posed for a picture with the Buffalo Bills’ foursome that included NFL Hall of Famers Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas, special teams’ specialist Steve Tasker and the legendary defensive stalwart Darryl Talley. The small contingent of the Super Bowl-era Bills served as the headline speakers of the event and reminisced about the magical run of an unprecedented four straight Super Bowl appearances during the early 1990s and paid homage to the late Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr.

List of previous Rochester Americans Press-Radio Club Award Winners

Local Athlete of the Year Award
Geordie Robertson – 1982
Geordie Robertson – 1983
Ken Priestlay – 1989
Jody Gage – 1994
Mika Noronen – 2000

George Beahon Award for Sportswriting Excellence
Kevin Oklobzija (Amerks beat writer since 1985) – 1994
Kevin Oklobzija – 2007

Gary Smith Award for Broadcasting Excellence
Don Stevens – 1997

Morrie Silver Memorial Award
Steve Donner (team owner from 1996-2008) – 1997

Christine Wagner Welch Inspiration Award
Craig Charron – 2010
Gates Orlando – 2013

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