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Weekes' greatest save was SKILLZ program

by John McGourty
Kevin Weekes never forgot the support he received from his neighborhood hockey program when he was a youngster, so the Devils' goaltender spent years supporting it, along with help from several NHL players who also went through the program.

This past summer, Weekes and Philadelphia Flyers center Glen Metropolit donated 110 sets of hockey equipment from the NHL Players' Association to the Wellesley Community Centre.

"I know first-hand how helpful it is, growing up in Toronto and being a fan of the Maple Leafs and the game in general," Weekes said. "I remember being around the rink and watching NHL players in the summer. I always played above my age and played with guys in the summer who were just breaking into the NHL. It's something that always stuck with me."

Weekes also has been heavily involved in charitable work in his parents' native Barbados, conducting the Kevin Weekes Celebrity Golf Classic, which also features a youth rally. Weekes, who wears the Barbados flag on the back of his helmet, was joined during the children's program by Jamaican-born Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey, who won the 100-meter dash at the 1996 Olympics.

Weekes benefited from playing with the SKILLZ hockey program near his home in Christie Pits, a section of Scarborough, on the east side of Toronto. He then went on to play for the Toronto Red Wings in the Metropolitan Toronto Hockey League and the St. Mike's B's in the Metropolitan Toronto Junior Hockey League. He played two seasons for the Owen Sound Platers and one for the Ottawa 67's in the Ontario Hockey League before turning pro. Weekes has played in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers and now the New Jersey Devils.

Several players entering the NHL or nearing promotion to the League have gone through the SKILLZ program, including Wayne Simmonds of the Los Angeles Kings, Chris Stewart of the Colorado Avalanche, Anthony Stewart of the Florida Panthers and Joel Ward of the Nashville Predators.

"I remember Kevin came out to the camp with Anson Carter, another NHL player, and we were all very excited at meeting two black players who were in the NHL," said Simmonds, who quickly has become an enthusiastic participant in NHL Hockey Is For Everyone initiatives. "I just want to be able to give back."

"Anson Carter, Jamal Mayers and I were in the inaugural group of SKILLZ students," Weekes said. "We were the Wayne Simmonds of our time, at the inaugural camp. We were just 16 and I was going into the OHL, Anson was going to Michigan State and Jamal was going to Western Michigan. Three or four years later, we were all playing pro hockey. Jamal and Anson were in the NHL and I was in the minors.

"That's when I started underwriting the cost of the camp myself, paying the ice-time costs and buying equipment. We stayed involved up until last year. My dad, Karl, still goes to the camp.

"But now there's a time conflict with my charity efforts in Barbados. It kind of crosses over. We've had Joel Ward, Chris and Anthony Stewart, Wayne Simmonds and P.K. Subban, who starred for Canada in the World Juniors. We just continue to have kids come out of the program and play in the NHL."

Weekes said it's important these programs address education and life skills, because not every young player is going to be able to make a living at hockey. Not every young boy or girl gets the best life-skills training at home or in the community, either.

"More important are the life skills we've been able to teach them and being exposed to the game of hockey and what a great game it is," Weekes said. "Most of the blacks in Canada are of Caribbean or African descent, so it takes a lot of education. When your parents first move from Jamaica or Barbados or Trinidad and Tobago, it takes a lot of educating about the process of playing the game, the commitment, how to register, and that was the main mission of the camp, educating parents.

"Once kids are turned on to something, they're turned on, and when it's something positive like hockey, we knew we had a lot bigger responsibility than just playing in the NHL. It was bigger than ourselves. We realized we had an opportunity to impact tons of kids, regardless of what their background was, where their parents were from or what gender they were. We just wanted to give them an opportunity to play the game and be exposed to it."

Weekes sees parallels to what he's done in other places in Canada and the United States. He's become good friends with former Tampa Bay teammate Brad Richards, who is a product of another area not known for producing hockey players.

"It's no different than the kids who come from Prince Edward Island, where you had a Rick Vaive and a Gerald Gallant open the door for Brad Richards and more to come," Weekes said. "Or Dan Cleary last year becoming the first Newfoundlander to win a Stanley Cup and now we have a Dan LaCosta, from Labrador, breaking in with the Columbus Blue Jackets. That's what it's really all about: Guys who have been there and shared their accomplishments in the League and having a positive impact.
"If you saw the list of the kids who went through SKILLZ, it's pretty impressive," said Eustace King, Weekes' agent, childhood friend and former goalie at Miami (Ohio) University. "Fred Brathwaite was involved. I went there, too. Kevin Weekes, Jamal Mayers and Anson Carter, that's my peer group. Rane Carnegie, Trevor Daley and Raffi Torres all went through there. Mike Zigomanis trained in the same gym and they were guiding him at 16. They just continue to help each other. Kevin played a major role because he wanted that role, he wanted to help kids.
"I know first-hand how helpful it is, growing up in Toronto and being a fan of the Maple Leafs and the game in general. I remember being around the rink and watching NHL players in the summer. I always played above my age and played with guys in the summer who were just breaking into the NHL. It's something that always stuck with me." -- Kevin Weekes
"There has been a lot of impact. I got a college scholarship, worked at the NHL and now I'm an agent. I didn't make it as an NHL player, but education was critical to being successful in my adult life. It's not about a black or a white thing. Brad Richards got tight with Kevin. Kevin was a good mentor and we all got to know Brad. Dominic Moore is also close with Kevin. He wants to help people get where they want to go."

Weekes has great admiration for Willie O'Ree, who became the first black player in the NHL in 1958 and has been director of youth development for NHL Hockey Is For Everyone since 1998. He has seen O'Ree work tirelessly but with great joy with children in his clinics.

"Willie is a perfect example of that, not only for what he was able to accomplish, being a visionary in playing in the League, but for having that as his goal," Weekes said. "More importantly, the tens of thousands of kids he's had the opportunity to impact. That continues the evolution of blacks in our game."

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