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 Central Division is featured:
Always active in their community, the Hitmen take part in various initiatives over the season. This year Calgary announced a unique element to their February, 1st ‘Every Child Matters’ game. The game was announced to be presented by Siksika Health Services in partnership with Siksika Child & Family Services and First Nations Health Consortium. Leading up to the game, Hitmen defencemen Andrew Viggars and Jackson Van De Leest took part in an autograph session and a for fun game at the Siksika Deerfoot Superplex. Over the course of the ‘Every Child Matters,’ game, various traditional celebrations were showcased including dancing, food and a blessing before the opening puck drop
“I think the most wonderful thing is the coming together of the cultures,” said Lois E Mitchell, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.” I know for me I can’t tell you how much I love the Siksika nation. The best part of it all is this exchange in culture through hockey.”
The game would go on to be a success for the Hitmen and Rebels, drawing an attendance of 9,500 fans. The game was also the first to be commentated in Blackfoot by Francis Wolf Leg and Stuart Breaker.
“We take pride in our language and this is a chance for us to showcase our language for people to hear,” Wolf Leg said. ” We want to show that our language can be used in any setting.”
The Siksika nation praised the Hitmen for reaching out and welcoming the themed evening game with open arms. The event was aimed at empowering indigenous youth through the power of sport while also showcasing Blackfoot cultural traditions.
Edmonton Oil Kings
This season the Edmonton Oil Kings partnered with Hockey Gives Blood and the Canadian Blood Services branch in Edmonton. The Oil Kings players teamed up with the organization’s staff to get together to donate to the cause.
“This is something close to my heart with what we have done for over a year and a half,” said Luke Pierce, assistant coach of the Oil Kings. “To see the support from our players it is pretty heart warming to see how 14 guys on our team jumped at the opportunity.”
“We took up the call as a team and decided to show our support,” said Oil Kings defenceman Ethan Cap. “Using our platform in the league to support something like this is something I hold close to me.”
Throughout the season, the Oil Kings also visit local hospitals in Edmonton to support kids who are rehabilitating. The players get the kids involved with games like air hockey or colouring. The Oil Kings split up into three groups to visit three different health facilities in Edmonton. The team visits the Children’s Stollery Hospital, Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House throughout the season.
“It is nice to get out here,” said Oil Kings defenceman Jalen Luypen. “These kids aren’t able to do the things we are able to do so its nice being able to support them.”
The Hurricanes are active in the team’s community as well every season taking part in various school and investment initiatives. One program the Hurricanes ran for January was a blood drive in partnership with Hockey Gives Blood. Over the the month various players on the team and members of the Hurricanes staff took time to donate for the cause.
Each season, the Hurricanes and Red Deer Rebels challenge fans to bring in the most blood donations during the month of January. Last season the Hurricanes just edged out the Rebels with 336 donations to Red Deer’s 329. Collectively, there were 142 donations from new donors from both teams. This year the numbers continued to grow with the Hurricanes collecting 472 donations, while the Rebels collected 455.
Medicine Hat Tigers
For over twenty years now the Medicine Hat Tigers have given back to the community with the Tigers Stay in School program. The program aims to help educate students in the community on the importance of living a healthy lifestyle.
“It’s great for us to get out and be role models while sharing our experiences with the kids in school,” Tigers defenceman Cole Clayton said. “It’s a fun learning experience for them and us.”
The in-classroom program invites players from the Tabbies into various schools in Medicine Hat to talk about topics such as setting goals, nutrition and maintaining a positive attitude and good work ethic.
Red Deer Rebels
The Red Deer Rebels returned this season with their partnership with Annie L. Gaetz Elementary School. At the beginning of the season, players are paired as the teacher’s assistants in the classrooms. During the sessions, the players help the teachers engage kids in a variety of classroom activities such as reading and writing.
“We hang out with the kids in the classrooms, usually doing school work. They are younger kids so anything we can do is great. We don’t get to visit very often the school as much as we would like but it is a pretty great experience,” said Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell. ” It’s cool because some of these kids are growing up playing hockey and they might aspire to do what we do.”
“There are a ton of things we end up doing, I joined the grade fives and we do a bunch of stuff with the kids to get them engaged with school,” said Rebels forward Ethan Sakowich. “For me its awesome seeing the kids faces light up is such a great feeling, every day we do something different and it has been a great three years of doing this for me with the school. All the questions the kids ask us are pretty cool and they truly want us there which is awesome.”
Swift Current Broncos
During the season, the Broncos make visit to rinks to play pick-up hockey with kids in the community. Recently the Broncos visited the Sheldon Kennedy Rink to play a pick up game. Various players from the team made it out to the event including Aiden Bulych, Sergei Alkhimov and Isaac Poulter.
The rink time is a great opportunity for kids to play in a safe and fun environment. The goal for the open ice times is to provide families with a cost effective option allowing their kids to lace up and have fun.
“Its an honour to be on a rink named after Sheldon Kennedy,” said Broncos forward Bulych. “All of us are having fun and it has been a great time for everyone.”