League welcomes mayor, former pro player and Christie Blatchford to raise banner
It was a golden Saturday morning for the North Toronto Hockey Association, as it celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Standing at centre ice with a red-white-and-green colour guard, association president Ben Hawkins was joined by broadcaster Gord Stellick, former pro hockey player Brayden Irwin, Mayor John Tory, councillors Christin Carmichael-Greb and Josh Colle, as well as journalist Christie Blatchford at North Toronto Memorial Arena for the unveiling of the banner.
Everyone involved had their ties to the community, especially Irwin who developed his love of the game while playing minor novice in the league at the age of eight.
Irwin, much like Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals, made his way to the National Hockey League. Although he only played two games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he spent five season in the American Hockey League, playing for the Toronto Marlies, Norfolk Admirals and Rochester Americans.
The NTHA asked him if he could be a part of the 50th anniversary, and Irwin kindly obliged.
“This is where I developed a love of the game,” he told the Town Crier. “I had a blast being with my friends, playing games together, going on road trips to tournaments.”
Hawkins said he was thrilled Irwin could attend, as well as the major and minor luminaries, current players in the NTHA included.
Although the priority is not on developing future NHLers, Hawkins stressed the basics when teaching kids Canada’s game.
“It’s not so much that we have kids like Brayden or Tom Wilson who is in the NHL, the goal here is to get the kids to love hockey and learn about competition, teamwork and sportsmanship,” he aid. “When they end up going to the NHL that’s a plus.”
Tory addressed a crowd of 100 in the stands that he enjoyed his time playing in the league growing up, and honoured the association with a scroll from City Hall.
National Post columnist Christie Blatchford, who also spoke to the audience, was proud of her father Ross’s contribution to the North Toronto community. The elder Blatchford was the arena manager through three decades, starting in the mid-’60s.
Since the league’s inception in 1965, it’s estimated 30,000 kids have donned the traditional red and green colours.
More than1,000 players are currently enrolled in the league, and in recent years have instituted a mandatory baseline cognitive testing program for kids in bantam and higher to help prevent and treat concussions.