Most hockey fans will identify Calgary and Edmonton as the host cities of the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship.
But, for the record, the successful tournament reached far more communities than Alberta’s two largest cities. And a big reason for that is the RBC Play Hockey program.
The program, now in its second year of existence, funds projects that keep hockey vibrant in communities across our great nation. In 2011, RBC awarded 26 grants to worthwhile hockey causes in Canada.
One of those was the World Hockey Tour, a dream of Hockey Alberta that was tied to the IIHF World Junior Championship. Scott Robinson, senior manager of business development with Hockey Alberta, says he was taken aback by the success of the World Hockey Tour.
Alberta communities including Brooks, Camrose, Cold Lake, Fahler, Innisfail, Lethbridge, Okotoks, Olds, Red Deer, Stettler, Thorhild and Three Hills were able to experience the magic of the World Juniors thanks to RBC and the World Hockey Tour.
“We couldn’t even guess at the amount of success we were going to have with this program,” says Robinson. “Minor hockey associations across the province were eager to jump on board and be part of such a large and memorable event.
“There are so many memories to share on the experience. From a Hockey Alberta standpoint, it was the countless times we heard positive feedback and thanks for putting on such an event and seeing the smiles of all the participants across the province. That’s what these events were about.”
One of the great aspects of RBC Play Hockey is the fact it assists communities and minor hockey associations of all sizes. So, while one of the beneficiaries last year was the massive World Hockey Tour, another was the tiny minor hockey association of Indian Head, Sask.
The Indian Head Minor Hockey Association has 72 members but the community has been actively attracting new families and the minor hockey association hopes to reap the benefit.
“Like all rural communities in Saskatchewan, hockey is a hot topic,” says Chad Thauberger, president of the Indian Head MHA. “The challenge is to recruit children at a young age to try hockey. Another challenge is finding enough volunteers to keep the program running. These volunteers are regular people, moms and dads who are passionate about hockey and understand its value in rural communities.”
Player recruitment is one area that will be supported by the funds. But Indian Head plans to use the money elsewhere, including on arena upgrades. Specifically, Indian Head wants to see a ramp installed at the rink for wheelchair accessibility. Also, the association wants to keep its membership fees as low as possible.
“Hockey is not a cheap sport to be in. There are many expenses that most people don’t consider, including equipment, uniforms, insurance, ice fees,” says Thauberger. “Keeping fees low is essential.”
The University of Prince Edward Island women’s hockey program is another past grant winner from RBC. The program will receive $10,000 and Bruce Donaldson, head coach of the UPEI Panthers, says the funds will help create a hockey program run by the players.
“Funding for the program will assist with covering ice and equipment costs along with creating employment opportunities for the female Panthers players,” says Donaldson. “Funding for the player will be in the form of an athletic scholarship award which will go directly to assist with school academic costs.”
Women’s hockey has already seen dramatic growth on P.E.I. The Panthers recently represented Atlantic University Sport at the CIS nationals in Edmonton. And, from April 22-28, Charlottetown will play host to Canada’s finest female Midget players at the 2012 Esso Cup. That comes on the heels of several well-run women’s events on the island.
The funding from RBC Play Hockey will only add to that momentum.
RBC’s support of grassroots hockey in Canada dates back to 1947. The RBC Play Hockey program started in November 2010 and, according to Matt McGlynn, manager of sports brand marketing at RBC, encouraging more participation in the sport is the program’s goal.
“We want people to get started, get better and go further in hockey and to support the grassroots programs that are happening across the country,” he says. “This year, in addition to the grants, we are providing financial advice to our recipients to help them manage their hockey budgets.”
McGlynn also shares the story of Strait Richmond Minor Hockey Association in Nova Scotia. Thanks to the funds from RBC Play Hockey, the association purchased jerseys for all teams and four sets of goaltender equipment. Finally, Strait Richmond was able to freeze registration costs at the same level as previous years, a huge benefit to members.
“In addition, they are in the process of sponsoring goalie clinics, power skating and other skill building training sessions throughout the season,” says McGlynn.
He adds that RBC takes pride in its support of hockey, not only in the form of cash grants. Many RBC employees give back to the sport by coaching, officiating or volunteering in the game.