Earlier this summer, two Bruins prospects got some very valuable, and perhaps life changing, off-ice experience.
Alongside Boston Bruins Director of Amateur Scouting Wayne Smith and scout Grant Sonier, forwards Matt Marquardt and Jamie Arniel
traveled to northern Quebec to be present at the Great North Wellness Group’s camp near a town called Waskaganish.
“It’s right on the shore of James Bay about 1800 kilometers north of Montreal,” said Gord Hudson from the area's Division of Youth Healing Services. “It has a population of about 2000...but the territory up here is nine communities stretched out over an area of about 750,000 kilometers with a population of about 20,000.
“But about 60% of that population is under the age of 19.”
Unfortunately, the youthful community faces a lion’s share of problems.
“(The people) suffer from social problems such as alcohol abuse,” explained Hudson. “In the last five years, I have dealt with close to 30 suicides.
“So bringing your group up here – Mr. Smith and Mr. Sonier and the two players Jamie and Matt -- gives these kids a chance to look up to someone…giving them a hope that sets a (level of) self esteem, hope and motivation.”
Hudson admits it’s a tough task.
“I started the Wellness Camp about four or five years ago, and it was a football camp because I was a former professional football player with the Ottawa Roughriders.
“I expanded it to the different sports and added hockey last year and the popularity of that program was so incredible that we were asked back this year.
“So, I contacted Wayne Smith, who has been a personal friend for the last 30 years, and he brought the young men to represent the Boston Bruins,” he said.
Despite the B’s players’ relative youth, the youngsters near Waskaganish (mostly of First-Nations Cree decent) were quick to respond.
“Once the kids found out that they had some prospects from the Boston Bruins up here representing the NHL, they were swarmed.
|Matt Writes in from Waskaganish |
|Marquardt Writes: As the sun sets In Waskaganish after a long hockey-filled day, the swarming bugs barrel in on us as the staff hustles into the Auberge Kanio-Kashee Lodge and shuts'er down. More » || |
“On ice, they were all over the kids and they were interacting so well. Jamie and Matt were just incredible,” he said.
What exactly did the camp entail?
“Most of the time they spent on ice interacting with all age groups from five years old all the way up to age 19,” answered Hudson. “They also did some off-ice stuff up in the fitness room, interacting with some of the kids and showing them some of their expertise and some of their fitness training regimes.”
Arniel, in particular, was able to bring some of his own personal experience into play while relating to the children.
“On a daily basis, Jamie was interacting with some of the younger kids (and) I think some of the messages that he was passing along could be life changing messages for these children.
“And maybe (those messages) could get them to go in a different direction as they get older.”
The gregarious Marquardt was a large help as well.
“I am very careful about who I invite up north because of the social impact that they have up here,” explained Hudson. “People visiting can have a very lasting impression.
“But I would never hesitate in bringing back those two young gentleman. They are character individuals and class individuals and if they called me to ask if they could come up again, I would not hesitate to say yes.”
Hudson spoke specifically to the message that Marquardt and Arniel brought with them from Ontario and Boston.
“Well I think more than anything, they explained the sacrifices that have to be made to achieve your dreams. Up here, for the most part, the kids have lost the ability to dream. And Jamie and Matt were just trying to instill that ability to dream again.
“That is the most important thing we try to (teach) these kids…and Jamie and Matt were both able to do that.
“It was outstanding.”
As he finished his comments, the former pro football player praised the two Bruins prospects, yet again.
“I know what the commitment of professional sports is like, and for (Jamie and Matt) to take their time to come up and spend some time up here with kids that are less fortunate is a testament to them, the organization and the direction that you are going.”
Wayne Smith thought the experience was just as beneficial for the Bruins contingent.
“The trip was an eye opening experience,” said Smith. “We learned a great deal about the struggles of this remote community and about ourselves.
“I was extremely proud of the way Grant, Matt and Jamie committed themselves to helping those less fortunate.
“They were model ambassadors of the Boston Bruins and they were able to make a difference in many peoples lives in a short period,” he said.Hannah Goldman contributed to this report.