For Kathy Brennan there are three big sporting events in Canada: the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Grey Cup and the IIHF World Junior Championship.
If your team plays hockey throughout the spring or is still on the football field in November, she says, you’ll likely be more invested in the games.
“But with the World Juniors you’ve got the feel of the whole country,” says Brennan. “It’s one of the few times that I feel a part of [an event] because we feel so Canadian when we [take part].”
Brennan was the volunteer coordinator at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, jointly hosted by Calgary and Edmonton. Brennan loves to volunteer, and she had already helped out at two Briers and a Grey Cup in Calgary before signing up for her first Hockey Canada event. She oversaw recruiting, scheduling and criminal background checks for the Calgary volunteers. “Not only do I love working with and organizing volunteers,” she says, “I love being a volunteer. It makes me feel a part of what’s going on.”
Other than just simply loving hockey, Brennan wanted to be involved because she didn’t know if she’d have the chance again. The 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship was the first time Calgary had hosted the event, and not knowing if or when it may return to her city, she was eager to be a part of it.
As the head of volunteers, Brennan found herself putting in anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week – and loving every minute of it. (To volunteer for the World Juniors, a person need only commit 24 hours.) She loved taking the time to match volunteers with jobs that would make the best use of their skills, experience and interests.
Having devoted more hours than most, Brennan was recognized on-ice during one of the preliminary round games. After Slovakia’s 6-4 win over Switzerland, Brennan presented the player of the game awards. The honour would land her a supporting role on TSN’s “Worst Play of the Day.”
The Swiss player accepted his award first, then waited for the Slovak player to join him for a photo. When the wrong Slovak player skated forward to accept his team’s player of the game, the Swiss player told him he was mistaken. “By this time his own team is telling him, ‘no, it’s not you,’” says Brennan. “He was so embarrassed and had to skate back. The right player came up and got the award. By this time the whole Saddledome is laughing.”
While you probably won’t find your way to centre ice as a World Juniors volunteer, you will get to cheer on Canada’s National Junior Team with fans just as passionate as you are. And that, says Brennan, may have been her favourite part of the experience
“I got to know so many people,” she says, “and not just other volunteers but people with Hockey Canada.” She says you’d see people coming in early for their shifts, knowing they could watch the game on TV surrounded by other equally ardent fans. “Once you’re in a room with a lot of people and the excitement starts builds building, it’s just a great experience.”
Those who gathered to help and cheer were from every background, profession and age bracket. Calgary and Edmonton needed close to 1,100 volunteers to run the event (Toronto and Montreal are aiming for 1,500 between the two cities). Brennan loved that so many families wanted to share their holiday time to help the cities host the event.
“It’s quite a tradition that on Boxing Day, so many Canadians are going to watch hockey,” says Brennan, who loved seeing friends volunteering with friends, dads with daughters, and husbands with wives.
“We’re all just there to make the event run and give our little part to it,” she says. “I firmly believe that volunteers are what make every event.”