EDMONTON -- The NHL, the Edmonton Oilers and Rogers made a $200,000 donation to Hockey Alberta on Tuesday as a legacy to the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.

The 2023 Heritage Classic, a celebration of the 2003 Heritage Classic, which was the first outdoor regular-season game in NHL history, features the Edmonton Oilers facing the Calgary Flames at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, TBS, Max).

The donation will go to Hockey Alberta’s Local Hockey Leaders Grant for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, funding programs throughout the province to expose the sport to more players and make the hockey community more accessible to all, particularly first-generation Canadians.

“It is extremely important because hockey should be viewed as a conduit to bring communities together,” said Jeff Scott, NHL vice president of community development and industry growth. ‘Regardless of where you come from, when you put on that jersey and you lace up those skates and you hop out on the ice, you are a part of a community, regardless if you are born and raised here in Alberta, or if you are a first-generation immigrant from some other location.

“At the end of the day, you can be seen as a hockey player, you know, and that's, I think, what's beautiful about this experience is that, you know, it is truly bringing communities together. This program is not only intended to educate and create comfort for people of color or minorities, but it's also intended for the families and the people who have had hockey in their blood since birth.

“We want to help provide access and resources for them to embrace and welcome new individuals and new people into the community. It’s a well-rounded investment that impacts every person across every community to create this one community, which is the hockey community.”

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Myrna Khan, the executive director of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, says changing demographics in the province has made the need for inclusion programs more acute.

“We've got one in three Canadians are new Canadians here, and we want the sport of hockey to be accessible to everybody,” Khan said. “We know that there's barriers, we know that there are challenges around inclusion. We want to make sure that all kids can play hockey, and that's why this is so important to us.

Hockey Alberta is launching its inaugural equity, diversity and inclusion-focused grant program to educate stakeholders about maltreatment and providing a safe environment within the community. The Legacy initiative funding will allow the Hockey Alberta Foundation to increase its financial support to amplify this grant throughout the province, engaging minor hockey teams in a pilot pledge, and increasing awareness and education about equity, diversity, and inclusion.

On Thursday, participants from a number of youth programs -- Junior Oilers, NHL/NHLPA First Shift, Colby’s Kids and Free Play for Kids -- were present for the check presentation. They were joined by current Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, retired NHL defenseman Andrew Ference, a former Edmonton captain, retired goalie Grant Fuhr, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and retired Oilers forward Georges Laraque.

The youth participants were given tickets to the game Sunday and visited the WestJet NHL Fan Park for a stop at the United by Hockey Mobile Museum.

Fuhr, who won the Stanley Cup five times with the Oilers, said initiatives such as the legacy project are huge in opening doors for diverse communities to become involved in hockey.

“It is about kids getting an opportunity to see it and realize that there's an opportunity for them to play hockey,” said Fuhr, the first Black player to win the Vezina Trophy and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The hardest part is getting them that opportunity. Once they see hockey live, they want to try it. That's the big goal, is to get kids exposed to the game.”

That has been the mission of the NHL’s legacy initiative, a continuing philanthropic endeavor through which the League and the local club support community organizations in the host city of an NHL event. The legacy project, entering its 20th season, has seen the NHL, NHL clubs and partners donate more than $6 million to communities across North America.

Scott says he is most excited to see the project begin to find a place in programs like this and not just infrastructure endeavors, as has been the case in the past.

“That's another positive evolution to our game,” he said. “We think about infrastructure, in the simplest, most transactional experience, because it's easy to build something and assume that they will come -- that “Field of Dreams” model.

“With experiences like this and investments like this, yes, it is a bit more theoretical. But when you have partners who are making it known that their commitment is to grow the game, then the accountability is there because now we're making public commitments to state that we want to see the game, have a pointed focus on equity and diversity and inclusion.”

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