Hockey should be about more than just scoring goals.
That's the central theme behind the first-ever NHL Hockey is for Everyone Program Center, which was unveiled today at an all-star weekend event held on the historic grounds of Rideau Hall. It will be jointly administered by the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society (H.E.R.O.S.), a Vancouver-based charity, and the Boys and Girls' Club of Ottawa.
Hockey is for Everyone seeks to bring the game to children of diverse ethnicities and economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods through hockey and education. It was launched in 1998 by NHL commissioner and Willie O'Ree, who broke the league's colour barrier in the 1950s. Both were on hand at the governor-general's residence today to introduce the new Ottawa initiative.
"I am extremely proud of the NHL’s philanthropic and community grassroots efforts to bring hockey to young people, regardless of ethnic or economic background," said Bettman. "The Hockey is for Everyone initiative isn’t about making it to the NHL. It stresses more than just shooting and passing and scoring goals. We stress the importance of central life skills and education and the core values of hockey, which are commitment, perseverance and teamwork."
All of that fits well with the mission of H.E.R.O.S., which combines hockey and education to promote skill development, self-esteem growth, team building and leadership training.
"We look forward to starting operations in Ottawa and providing girls and boys with an opportunity to learn how to play ice hockey while developing strong leadership and life skills," said Norm Flynn, the executive director and founder of H.E.R.O.S., which launched in 1999 and now operates 11 programs in seven cities across Canada.
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, whose team runs several programs locally designed to give underprivileged youth and children the chance to skate and play the game, said it's important for organizations at the highest levels to give back at the grassroots level.
"We all know that skating and playing hockey are synonymous with (growing up) in Canada," said Melnyk, who personally holds an annual Skate For Kids at Scotiabank Place. "So it makes complete sense that it should be a priority for those of us who are closely associated with the game to make every effort to ensure that all young Canadians can share in this great winter tradition."
Governor-General David Johnston, who welcomed 15 youngsters from the Ottawa Boys and Girls Club into Rideau Hall and onto the neighbouring outdoor rink for a skate, applauded the announcement of the new NHL program in Ottawa.
"The NHL Hockey is for Everyone Program Center is a tremendous opportunity, not only to introduce local youth to this great Canadian game, but also to instill in them a love of learning," said Johnston. "Given my own experience with and affection for hockey, I am thrilled that this program encourages children from all backgrounds to lace up their skates to help build their skills and confidence.
"I played hockey for many years and being a member of a team encouraged me to do better and to study harder. I hope the children participating in this program will feel the same encouragement."