SCSU alums use hockey platform to give back to autism community with Dowd's Crowd kits

The intense sights and sounds of a packed hockey arena are part of the fun for most fans.

But for children with autism, that heightened sensory excitement can be so daunting it prevents them and their families from going to games.

Thanks to SCSU alums Nic and Paige Dowd and their Dowd’s Crowd sensory kits, many of those families are now able to enjoy the thrill of attending a hockey game together.

Nic Dowd meets with Dowd's Crowd recipientsNic was a Husky hockey standout from 2010-2014 and is now a forward on the Washington Capitals NHL team, while Paige graduated in 2015 from SCSU’s Communication Sciences and Disorders program. They have applied their skills, education and passion for helping kids with autism to make a real difference in the lives of families of those with sensory needs.

Paige came up with the idea of creating sensory kits with items to help tone down the loud noise and brightness of the energetic atmosphere of a hockey game for kids with sensory sensitivities while Nic was playing with the Vancouver Canucks. When they moved to Washington five hockey seasons ago, she went into action, approaching the Capitals. They became willing partners in supporting what became Dowd’s Crowd.

Nic gives Paige the credit for the success of their charity. She creates the Dowd’s Crowd brand sensory kits, which include noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, a foam puck and conversation card. Together they enlist other players and friends to help support their work through fundraising and other forms of promotion.

"She’s the brains behind the operation, I’m just the platform," said Nic. Because of his connections, the families who apply to become a recipient of a Dowd’s Crowd game package receive tickets to the game and a personal visit with Nic after the game.

"We appreciate how excited they are," Nic said of the families they interact with during the unique game experience the Dowds and their partners have created for children with autism and their families.

The Dowd’s successful personal partnership began when Nic and Paige met at St. Cloud State. He was a hockey star from Huntsville, Ala., and she was a Speech Pathology major from St. Cloud who had transferred in her sophomore year from North Dakota State. Both were working toward a future of making a difference in their separate fields.

"I knew I wanted to work with kids," said Paige, who was attracted to her career field in part because a family friend was a speech pathologist. By her senior year she demonstrated her commitment to her field by serving as president of the St. Cloud State chapter of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association, gaining experience in fundraising and learning about the effects of autism on chil-dren and their families.


Nic was recently in the Twin Cities in March for a Capitals-Minnesota Wild game the same weekend the Huskies won the 2023 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff Championship. He had his own fair share of success at SCSU, playing on the 2013 team that was the first to skate its way to a shot at a Frozen Four championship.

Nic and Paige Dowd at an ice arenaNic said his SCSU years helped him develop the ability to manage time and build relationships. "People depend on you," he said. "To be a successful athlete and a good student, you have to be accountable to professors and coaches."

Like many athletes offered jobs before graduation, he is still working to-ward his degree and is just five credits short with a 3.8 grade point average. "I was really proud of what I did at St. Cloud."

"Nic exemplifies what it means to be a Husky," said SCSU Director of Athletics Holly Schreiner. "He has always been a great example of what it means to give back. He was one of those students that made time to help in any way that he could and made people feel like they mattered. His hard work and commitment to making the community around him a better place is something that everyone at St. Cloud State University can be proud of.

"Nic and Paige’s work with Dowd’s Crowd shows what it means to be passionate about something and to give back in ways that are unmeasur-able," Schreiner added. Herb Brooks National Hockey Center has Dowd’s Crowd kits available for children with autism and their families at Husky hockey games.

Since their years at SCSU, the Dowds have achieved success in both their personal lives and their career fields. And they have added their 3-year-old son, Louie, and Ruby, born in January of 2023, to the Dowd team roster.

"It’s hard to explain the love you have for your kids and how you’d do anything for them," Paige said. "We’re glad to be able to help other families do this for their children."


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