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FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME

Flames Foundation brings new Canadians of every background to Scotiabank Saddledome to learn about hockey

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers / calgaryflames.com

It's about inclusion. It's about community.

Because hockey truly is for everyone.

As part of the NHL's 'Hockey Is For Everyone' initiative in February, the Calgary Flames Foundation invited new Canadians of every background to Scotiabank Saddledome to learn more about the sport.

"You want fans from everywhere," centre Matt Stajan said.

"Living in Canada there are all different cultures. You see that. That's one of the best parts about living in this country. You want that with our game and you're even seeing a lot of players in the NHL from different cultures breaking barriers. Now you're seeing it more and more and that's great."

Supported by Hockey Canada, Hockey Calgary, HEROS Hockey, Football Hockey Link and KidSport Calgary, participants had the opportunity to view a Flames practice, sit in on an introductory presentation about minor hockey in Calgary, and absorb several guest-speakers such as assistant general manager Craig Conroy.

"They're focused," Conroy said. "They're paying attention. They're listening to every word. They want to be a part of it. That's the thing. You see that wanting. 'Hey, this is exciting! I'm having fun. I can't wait.' It's starting to build that right now.

"For me, it is about that.

"Hockey is a tough game because there's so many rules, it's fast, guys are jumping on and off the ice, icing, what is an icing, what isn't an icing…all the different rules. Don't be afraid. Don't feel like there's a bad question. If you have a question, ask a question. The more you know about the game the better.

"It's the one thing that brings all Canadians together."

Harnarayan Singh of Hockey Night in Canada and Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi knows that well. Singh, who co-hosted the event along with Rob Kerr of Sportsnet 960 The FAN, has seen the cultural impact hockey has in Canada and amongst new Canadians.

"We were watching Flames practice and it was going around and you talk to people and it's their first time at the Saddeldome or its their first time even coming to a hockey rink. That's really cool," he said.

"This is the first step in them becoming a fan of the sport. It's not just about the sport. It's going to help them in a lot of different ways that they don't even know. I know this from my own life experience and feedback I've gotten throughout the years.

"It's going to create camaraderie in the workplace. They're going to talk about last night's hockey game and know what's going on. It's going to help their kids make friends at school because hockey is the common ground again. It's cool to see how the reactions were.

"I think the NHL deserves credit for this 'Hockey Is For Everybody' program. This year they've really pushed it. You see so many different franchises doing so many different things to show that this game is for everybody and it isn't just for boys and for girls, not just for people of one background, it's for everybody."

Singh isn't the only one to notice those efforts.

The players have, too.

"I think the NHL and the players have done a great job with making this happen," Stajan said. "It's such a great sport that you want everybody to have a chance to be involved. Today was a great day for that. This whole month has been. I think you can create that awareness and the more people involved the better."

The Calgary event is part of a larger initiative by the NHL to emphasize inclusion on all fronts, including LGBTQ; ethnicity and gender equality; socio-economic status and those with disabilities.

Because hockey is for everyone.

"It allows people in," Kerr said. "It should.

"It gives us a common thread to be a part of that gives us a common direction in which to pull. It gives us a common thing to cheer for and be a part of. To me it's the great equalizer. It should be non-discriminatory. It's inclusive. Sport to me is inclusive.

"It's Canada's game and if you look at Canada we're a multicultural country.

"We celebrate that. I just think it's the best part of the sport."

 

 

 

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