by Rebecca Virgin
Sunday, December 04, 2005
(Toronto) -- Mats Sundin donned a big "C" for a much larger and younger group of people than he's used to this past Sunday as he kicked off a new season of Esso Street Buds hockey for his tenth season as honourary captain of the program.
The Leafs captain was at Wellesley Community Centre for an afternoon of ball hockey with 30 eager to learn kids experiencing Street Buds hockey for the first time. Not only was this centre new to the program, but the entire centre is new to the community as well.
"Whenever we launch a new site of the program Mats will come with his talents and skills and put on a performance for the kids to learn," said Bhim Rana, recreation coordinator at Wellesley Community Centre. "So this site is just launching today and then it will run from this moment on at Wellesley. Every year he's launched different sites for the last ten years."
The children listened intently as Sundin explained some essential hockey skills and then hit the floor with him to practice.
"I grew up playing street hockey so I know all about it," said Sundin. "It's a great way to learn about the fundamentals of playing hockey and the fundamentals of being a good teammate and caring about your friends that you're playing with, so it's a great program."
The program is run in 32 community centres in Toronto and is a free program sponsored by Esso and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The kids learn fundamental hockey skills and compete against each other all leading up to a city wide tournament called March Madness.
"Some of these centres the kids wouldn't have the opportunity to play hockey," said Shawn Burke, coordinator of youth hockey development for the Leafs. "It's some form of physical fitness with the kids being involved, getting sticks in their hands. To have someone of Mats' stature involved with the program is just great."
More than 3,500 children between the ages of six and 16 participate in the program which provides a safe and fun environment to play street-style hockey. Esso Street Buds has continued to grow over the past eleven years and is hoping to add community centres from four new areas of Toronto over the year.
"I think it is important to learn about hands and shooting and stick handling, but even more being a good teammate and caring about your friends that you have on your team and knowing that it's not all about yourself," said Sundin. "It's about making sure you're a good teammate."