WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends group are firm believers in the importance of playing hockey - not only because it's a great sport, but because it can give players the tools to succeed both on and off the ice.
For the second year, the Alumni have awarded a scholarship to a Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy (WJHA) student who won't necessarily be pursuing hockey down the road but has used the WJHA's programming as a launch pad for life after high school. This year's recipient - Gabriel of River East Collegiate.
"It really makes me feel like what I did here is something important," said Gabriel on winning the $1,500 scholarship.
"It's a recognition for all the work of not just myself, but all my classmates."
The Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends WJHA Scholarship was created in 2019 to support a student in their post-secondary education, and is now awarded annually to a WJHA student who has spent a minimum of five years in the program, has completed a Hockey Canada Skills Academy class for credit in high school, maintains a minimum 80 percent attendance rate at the WJHA after-school program, and who shows character, dedication, hard work, and a continuous willingness to improve.
"Our alumni group are strong advocates for what the WJHA is doing for Winnipeg's youth," said Jordy Douglas, President of the Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends Association.
"Hockey is a fantastic team sport that develops a lot of great characteristics in the youth who play the game. When we get to select a student for the scholarship, it's amazing to see how these youth are taking the lessons they've learned on the ice and are using that in other areas of life, such as applying for university or finding a job. It makes it such an honour to support the program and it's participants."
When speaking with Gabriel, it doesn't take long to see that he checks off all the boxes for the alumni scholarship. That starts with his involvement in the after-school program, which sparked a passion in him that has guided his decisions for what he will be doing after graduation.
After a field trip to the Winnipeg law courts with the after-school program, Gabriel was inspired by the people he met there and will be studying business and law through the University of Manitoba in the fall.
"The way all of the people in the building held themselves was inspiring," said Gabriel of the law courts field trip. "Everyone had an air of respect around them - not just for the building but also for themselves and every single citizen, every single judge, every single plaintiff, every single person. They just had so much respect and understanding of different positions and different people."
The respect that he saw at the law courts, along with the respect he's experienced at the WJHA has left its mark on Gabriel. He shows that same character and respect to others, seeing the potential in his peers and fellow WJHA students.
"I feel so many of my friends and colleagues have so much potential in them, and they just have this fire in them that can burst out at any point in time," said Gabriel.
"They can do so many great things, they just don't know how to channel that into something great. I'm glad that I had all these opportunities, and I'm glad that the Winnipeg Jets gave them to me."
That trait of believing in others has stood out to WJHA staff. WJHA Director Murray Cobb has seen Gabriel's optimism not only continue to improve his own character but rub off on others too.
"Gabe inspires all his classmates and teammates with his infectious personality," remarked Cobb.
"No matter what the situation, Gabe always found a way to make it more enjoyable for his peers, which helped the entire group stick with the WJHA and find their own success. He could always be counted on to liven up an on-ice or after-school session, while at the same time putting in a great deal of effort, which ultimately led him to be a scholarship winner and university student."
That type of leadership resonates with the Jets Alumni & Friends, and with their support, they hope Garbriel can bring that same infectious personality that he had with the WJHA to whatever communities he involves himself in going forward.
"As former hockey players, the best leaders we saw in the dressing room were those players who had a way of not only believing in and motivating themselves but doing the same for the rest of the team," said Douglas.
"That ability is just as valuable in society, and it's the type of characteristic we try to promote through scholarships like this because people like Gabriel are the types of people that we want making an impact in our community."