TORONTO -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban has always taken pride in helping others, even long before he reached the NHL in 2010.
"When he was younger, a kid, he always gave away his lunch," his mother, Maria Subban, said Tuesday. "He would say, 'Mom, they don't have anything to eat.' He was always looking out for other kids."
A group of 110 children from Toronto's Jane and Finch area recently competed against a group of Americans, organized and supported by performer Pharrell Williams, in "Jeopardy" trivia. The Canadians won the event, and Subban and his family felt they should be rewarded.
So he gathered the victors, who are attending a summer camp called Success Beyond Limits (SBL) at York University and, along with some assistance from Gatorade, gave them prizes.
"I'm from Toronto, so whenever I can give back to communities here, I do," Subban said. "I know I play in Montreal and obviously I give back to Quebec and the city of Montreal a lot, but every now and then you have to remember this is my hometown. Even though I didn't grow up in Jane and Finch, I had a lot of friends and family members who lived in this area."
Subban's sister Nastassia gathered the kids in a large meeting room and showed them a highlight video of her brother's career. Then she announced that P.K. was sorry he was unable to attend, but she had a video message from him.
Halfway through the video, P.K. entered the room, much to the delight of the kids who immediately began to cheer wildly and chant, "P.K.! P.K.! P.K.!"
Muskam Muhibullah, a 14-year-old who moved to Canada two years ago from Afghanistan, admitted she is not a hockey fan but was looking forward to meeting Subban.
"I did not know who he was, but now I do," Muhibullah said. "When they announced he was not [going to] be here today, I was a little disappointed. But here we go, he is here, and I am happy. It was a thrill to meet him."
Subban told the kids how proud he was of their accomplishment and commitment to the summer program, and then gave them gifts which, among other things, included a P.K. Subban T-shirt. Then the group gathered for a selfie with the hockey star.
Subban, who won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman in 2013, said to be able to give the kids gifts and pat them on the back while hoping to give them a sense of direction at a critical time in their lives was uplifting. Subban, his mother, and two sisters (Natasha and Nastassia) were on hand and hope the P.K. Subban Foundation can accomplish much more in the future to help kids.
"It is a family project," Subban said. "Everything is about teamwork. That's what we're trying to teach these kids. A lot of my success has come through teamwork and family supporting me."
Subban said he knows a lot of the kids he spoke to Tuesday will face tough choices in their teen years. He had a message for them.
"Life is all about making the right decisions," said Subban, who is entering his sixth season with the Canadiens. "Some people get a second chance when they made the wrong decisions, but we're trying to give these kids the opportunity to make the right decisions in life. It is a sensitive age once they reach high school. They are going from being kids into being young adults, and around that time is when you are held responsible for your actions. It can hit you in the face pretty hard."
He said one of his missions is to try to open the eyes of the children he meets to what is available for them.
"I have been very lucky to have a support system from my parents to my brothers and sisters, and that is what I fell back on when I fell on rough times and adversity," Subban said. "Some of these kids don't have that unfortunately, so we try to teach them how to stay positive, remain focused and about goal-setting and team work. We're teaching them the socials skills they can use in the world today. If you can't work with your peers, you're not going to go too far."