The NHL Players Association is supporting a Toronto Police vision to give kids the chance to strap on skates and get on the ice to create team players in building a safer city.
The NHLPA celebrated the donation of hockey equipment to the Toronto Police Youth Hockey Program on February 21, bringing along Maple Leafs William Nylander and Ron Hainsey to meet the budding players – many of whom never skated before the October 2018 launch of the league.
NHLPA representative and retired Stanley Cup-winning defenceman Mathieu Schneider says the NHLPA Goals & Dreams program exists so kids see the value of working as a team towards a goal – something he says hockey does like no other sport.
“In a lot of sports we get lost in the idea that my kid is going to get a college scholarship or become a pro athlete. This is about sport and having a positive influence in kids’ lives,” says Schneider, of supporting the Toronto Police program. “You want kids to be active with all the benefits of being active. On top of teamwork, camaraderie and sportsmanship, all the things that help you become successful person in any walk of life sports can become a conduit to makes those things happen.”
Community Partnership & Engagement Unit Constable Ryan Park, who recruited schools and officers from the Shoreham and Malvern neighbourhoods to take part in the 12-week program, says watching the Grade Five kids who could barely stand on skates now clamouring to get on the ice each week is rewarding.
“On day one they didn’t know what an elbow pad looked like, how to tie their skates or hold a stick,” says Park, a former hockey school coach and OHL referee. “Now they’re raring to go, when they fall down, they pick themselves back up and keep skating.”
“They’ve grown as group and all have the experience of playing hockey understanding the value of teamwork and perseverance and being better the next day,” he says.
Officers from 31 and 42 Divisions as well as the Public Safety Response Team coach the kids at practice and in games giving kids a chance to connect to the officers who patrol their neighbourhoods. The City of Toronto donates the ice time at their arenas.
St. Augustine Catholic School Vice-Principal Enrica Della Mea says it’s been a great opportunity for kids in the program as many never saw themselves playing hockey but have now risen to the challenge.
“Wednesday is their favourite day of the week because they play hockey. It’s been an excellent opportunity something they wouldn’t have had without this program,” she says, of the 30 students who participate. “It creates self-confidence, self-esteem, a sense of community and team building.”
Renell Arrindell can attest to her 11-year-old son Zion’s excitement for hockey.
“He loves it. He wasn’t the best skater at first but he pushes himself to get better,” she says. “It’s an expensive sport. I don’t think he could see himself playing it. Seeing him love it, makes me love it even more.”
She says giving the opportunity to watch the Leafs practice and meet players is an opportunity many kids never get.
Overall the program teaches kids that nothing is out of reach.
“They’re so proud of their team and everything they’ve accomplished,” she says. “It shows them that no matter what you can do anything you put your mind to.”