Hockey is Canada’s game.
Pardon the truism, but when we invented the game and dominate at it, it is only ours to give. However, it is our altruistic nature as Canadians to share our sport with the world.
Especially when the world comes here.
That’s why Royal Bank of Canada is setting aside $1 million in funds to donate in $25,000 grants to neighbourhoods across the country who have no access to hockey, spokesperson Jim Little said.
“One of the things that struck us as we were thinking of the program was … that 62 percent of new Canadians thought that playing hockey made them feel more Canadian,” he said.
One community that never shies away from a game of pick-up is Thorncliffe Park, where the neighbourhood organization benefited from one of the first grants Nov. 29.
Youth outreach worker Aamir Sukhera couldn’t be happier.
“We believe that as it is important to introduce Canadians to cricket it’s just as important to teach newcomers about hockey,” he told the crowd. “It is essential for Canada’s youth to be good at its natural sport.
“After all, very few things, in addition to the mighty beaver, define Canada more than hockey.”
Sukhera said playing ice hockey was something he only envisioned as a child.
“I was talking to my dad yesterday that it was a dream for me and he got very upset and I said, ‘It’s not your fault, there are lots of kids that don’t’, but we’re changing that now,” he said. “This is a big step in that direction.”
Thorncliffe Park Public School once had an ice pad in the back, Sukhera recalled. Its unexplained disappearance did not deter him or his friends from playing Canada’s sport.
“Literally you walk around any time of the year you will see kids walking around with hockey sticks,” he said. “We play here (at Thorncliffe Park PS) every Sunday night. There’s never a fight, there are no penalties required.”
It also offers kids in the community a safety net.
“During election time we didn’t have a permit here, and one of my youth did not attend and he was caught at wrong place at the wrong time and was charged with a crime,” Sukhera said. “Being here would have saved him, so we value ball hockey and we love it.”
Now, with a little help from RBC and some big guns, namely Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman, kids can take their ball hockey games on ice. He was on hand when pairs of skates and equipment were donated to the community.
Yzerman admitted Canada is changing.
“In Canada this game is the fabric of our nation so it’s important, not only for young kids but kids of all ages, to grow our sport, to have them play, to have them follow it,” Yzerman said. “Most of these young kids are very excited about playing.
“They’re innocent and just playing to enjoy the sport any way they can much like all NHL players started out.”