IRVINE, Calif. -- It started with a conversation a few years ago. John and Alexa Gibson, looking to get involved in the local community, wanted to find a way to use hockey as a means of giving back. Last year they teamed up with San Diego Ducks Sled Hockey, hosting two suite nights for the team as well as a clinic on the ice at Honda Center. The Gibsons loved it. So much, in fact, they wanted to expand their impact this year.
In addition to their involvement with sled hockey, the Gibsons this season will also work with inclusive/adaptive hockey programs like warrior, blind/deaf and special needs to help raise awareness for these programs. It's all part of giving back, something Gibson made a commitment to when he became the Ducks' Hockey is for Everyone ambassador. In this role, Gibson pledges to be a leader in the locker room and in the community.
"This is going to be my home for a long time," Gibson says. "We want to make sure we can give back and help out any way we can. It's just a little thing, but we hope we can make a little bit of a difference."
The goal of the HIFE initiative is as follows: Across the league throughout the year, the NHL and NHLPA work to provide the sport in a positive environment for players, families and fans of every race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and for those with disabilities. It is important to recognize that, within the NHL family, there are individuals who identify in many different ways. Whether they are fans, players, coaches or management, they are all important parts of what makes the NHL successful and all should feel welcome. In short, no matter your background or circumstances, your passion and love for the game is the thing that matters.
Last Saturday was a big day for the Hockey is for Everyone Initiative at Great Park Ice. The afternoon featured on-ice sessions for blind hockey, sled hockey and special needs hockey. After Ducks training camp finished for the day, Gibson made his way over to the clinics. He caught up with the San Diego Ducks Sled Hockey team during their practice and stayed on as a guest coach for the hour-long special needs hockey clinic. From the players on the ice to the parents and families in the stands, Gibson's presence alone meant so much.
"For those athletes, it's really special for them to see someone at the highest level take time and be a part of their program," says Jesse Chatfield, Director of Marketing for The Rinks. "Not just from a 'Let me stop by and sign an autograph,' but to get on the ice, provide pointers and relate to those athletes. It's super impactful. They all came off saying how great of a day it was, just feeling a little more of a personal connection to a Ducks superstar they look up to."
While John was on the ice, Alexa was taking the time to meet some of the parents whose kids were out there. "We're so happy to see these kids and adults so happy," she says. "I was talking to some of the parents, and it even goes as far as the parents themselves. This isn't only affecting their kids by making their lives a little happier and giving them more of a purpose. They feel like 'I can do this, too.' It's probably the best feeling in the whole world to be here with all these families. It's amazing.
"We're hoping to spread the word and educate people on all disabled hockey, whether you're blind, deaf, special needs, paralyzed," Alexa adds. "Whatever it is, there are sports out there you can do and be competitive. We're hoping us being involved with this will help get it going."
Gibson reemphasizes the importance of showing that hockey is for everyone.
"We're trying to spread the news to other people that hockey is a game you can try," he says. "Help any way we can, whether it's bringing about awareness or helping with ice time. Make sure they have ice and all the equipment they need. We're excited to be out here and having fun with everyone. It's cool to come out here and spend some time with people of all ages. You get little kids and older men and women. It's an awesome experience to spend some time with them. Pretty soon I'll be in a sled trying it out."
More and more, we're seeing players (and their significant others) getting involved in community outreach. That same day, Cam and Jasmine Fowler were outside hosting a ball hockey tournament as part of their C4Kids program.
"It's like a big family," Alexa says. "It's really cool. We didn't know at first both Cam and Jasmine, and John and I, were talking to the Ducks trying to figure something out. It's really cool to see how much they've progressed already. They started C4Kids last year, and they're already doing events. It's a great thing for the Ducks family. Seeing how far C4Kids has come, we're in our beginning stages. To see how much the Ducks have supported them, it's so encouraging. It's good to know somebody is supporting you."
This is shaping up to be a big year on the ice for Gibson and the Ducks, but even more off the ice.
"We love kids, we love hockey and we love helping," Alexa says. "We've wanted to do something to give back and help as many people as we can. Having this here, working with the Ducks, it's like the perfect fit."