While playing hockey and academic endeavors are priorities for Western Hockey League players, community interaction and involvement are also important prerogatives that often go unrecognized. In the WHL Community Collective feature, we will highlight each team in the WHL, by division, to recognize different initiatives in their respective communities.
In this week’s #WHLCommunity spotlight, the East Division is featured:
Brandon Wheat Kings
Five times a season, the Brandon Wheat Kings partner with Hockey Manitoba and McDonalds Restaurants to venture out into surrounding communities to work with minor hockey teams. Players skate and practice with multiple teams as well as sign autographs and pose for photos during the sessions, which are called “caravans.” The Wheat Kings lead drills and work one-on-one with kids to show them the importance of hard work during practice. At the end of each Minor Hockey Caravan, young skaters and their coaches are invited to a future Wheat Kings game at Keystone Centre with a complimentary game ticket.
“The Minor Hockey Caravan is something I really love doing. Getting the chance to make such a positive impact on kids’ lives is something I am proud to be a part of. I grew up in Brandon and understand the importance we have as role models and leaders in the community – so to get to be a part of that is something I truly appreciate,” said alternate captain of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Connor Gutenberg.
Moose Jaw Warriors:
Led by Moose Jaw Warriors forward Tate Popple, the “Warriors Workout” program tackles an epidemic facing all of North America: childhood obesity. Throughout the season, Warriors players visit schools to discuss the importance of daily physical activity, proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices with kids.
In an assembly setting, the Warriors introduce themselves, then lead a warm-up to begin the session. Each player is assigned a group of kids ranging from grades five to eight and split up into different stations where students participate in stretching, balance, agility and power exercises led by the players.
“The kids are so energetic,” said Popple, “it’s awesome to see them enjoying the activities.”
After everyone has rotated through the stations, the Warriors challenge the students to a game of dodgeball and wrap up the event with a final reminder about the importance of making healthy choices.
“If the kids can take away one or two things about having a healthy lifestyle, that’s huge, but we also want them to have fun with the Warriors,” said Popple. “It’s also awesome for us to go out and give back to our community because they support us so much.”
Prince Albert Raiders:
Throughout the season, a rotation of Prince Albert Raiders players visit schools in the area to present basic first aid training programs to Grade 6 and 7 students in partnership with Parkland Ambulance. With the help of a trained paramedic, players outline and demonstrate the fundamentals necessary to keeping yourself safe in an emergency situation, CPR, choking rescues, checking a victim’s airway, breathing and circulation (ABCs) and the recovery position.
“I hope the kids can [use this training] to make sure if incidents happen, they’re able to help out and know what to do in case of emergencies. It’s important they gain the experience and know where the equipment is around places like their school,” said Prince Albert Raiders player, Jeremy Masella.
For the students, it’s also most likely their first time seeing the Prince Albert Raiders players up-close and personal. By integrating basic first training into their classroom visits, the players can show the kids the importance of safety while interacting within the community.
“It’s important for us to be involved because we’re role models to the younger kids. They’re excited when we visit their classes,” said Masella.
Although many WHL teams raise awareness for breast cancer every season in October, it holds particular importance for the Regina Pats. Leading goaltender for the Pats, Max Paddock, knows the effects of breast cancer all too well and is proud to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a unique pink helmet for the entire month of October. Paddock revealed that he has two aunts, both of which have had breast cancer, and are survivors.
“My helmet was covered with different shades of pink and the ribbon for breast cancer. I also got my pads re-done to have them striped with white, navy and pink instead of red. I wore them for every game in October and we collected donations throughout the month for breast cancer,” said Paddock.
At the end of the month, Paddock’s helmet, the Pats’ player pink helmets, basket raffles and rink ticket sales raised $4,165 in support of Breast Cancer. WHL Alumni and Pats member Matt Bradley (Montréal Canadiens) also contributed to the cause, donating five dollars for every goal he scored. Former Pats’ players Nick Henry (Colorado Avalanche) and Nick Leschyshyn (Vegas Golden Knights) also followed Bradley’s initiative of donating to breast cancer research for each goal they scored and $10 for each Pats win.
“With so many people coming out to watch our games we hope it encourages them to support such an important cause. It was nice to support a cause that was so close to home for me. [Breast cancer patients] are just such strong people. Whether they win the battle or not, I just really have to applaud them for their strength,” said Paddock.
On Sunday, February 10, 2019, 45 new Canadian citizens were sworn in at a citizenship ceremony, one of the largest of its kind in Canada, at the SaskTel Centre with the Saskatoon Blades and their partner for the event, EcoLogik. For the third year in a row, the Blades demonstrated their belief in inclusion by welcoming newcomers to Canada in the best way they know how: with a hockey game.
Prior to the game, the Blades held a “Hockey 101” presentation complete with a classic Peter Puck video that shows them the significance of hockey in Saskatoon and Canadian culture as well as a brief history lesson on the game. Then the newcomers headed to ice-level where they tried on all the different pieces of equipment, shot pucks into nets and got a live feel for hockey off the ice. After being sworn in at the ceremonial puck-drop, participants watched the Blades game. At the end of the game, Blades players and staff members brought in skates and helmets to help the new Canadians on the ice, which for most of them was their first skate.
“This year was my third experiencing ‘Welcome the World’. It’s pretty cool to see,” said Saskatoon Blades captain, Chase Wouters. “We know how important hockey is to us here, but it’s amazing to see the way the new Canadians react when they strap on the skates for the first time and try shooting and things like that. There’s so much joy and excitement from them, which just makes for such a fun experience for us as players. It reminds me of when I was little and first fell in love with the game. It’s such a great reminder of the power of sport and how it brings people together.”
The Blades’ ‘Welcome the World’ ceremony idea has been adopted by many other teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Saskatchewan Roughriders and this past season by the Peterborough Petes who beat the Blades’ previous record by swearing in 40 citizens at centre ice. The Blades knew they had to kick-it-up a notch and reclaim their title as the hosts of the largest Canadian citizenship ceremony at a sporting event so they outdid the Petes by inviting 45 new Canadians to be a part of ‘Welcome the World’.
Swift Current Broncos:
Touring Saskatchewan schools near Swift Current, the Swift Current Broncos teach elementary-school-aged children how to be ‘Lung All-Stars’. In partnership with the Saskatchewan Lung Association, players educate students on the proper ways to take care of their lungs such as saying “No” to tobacco or anything that can be inhaled, and exercising regularly to improve lung health.
“Personally, I haven’t lost anybody to lung disease thankfully, but you see so many people touched by it so it’s important to get into schools and show the kids about taking care of their lungs,” said Broncos player Ethan O’Rourke.
As Lung All-Stars, students take a pledge to Focus, Breathe and Play Hard and are then encouraged to fundraise for the cause by selling tickets to the Lung All-Stars Game, which took place on December 14, 2018, this season. The game recognizes students and players who participated in the program at a ceremonial puck drop.
“We love to come out to these events, have fun with the kids and teach them how to treat their lungs right,” said Swift Current Broncos captain, Tanner Nagel.