In the past three years, RBC Financial Group, along with Hockey Canada and the Hockey Hall of Fame, has chosen 46 minor hockey volunteers from coast to coast to coast, from North Vancouver, BC to Stephenville, NL to Repulse Bay, NU, and many small towns in between, as RBC Local Hockey Leaders. On behalf of these winners, RBC has donated $375,000 to minor hockey associations in their communities.
In each season since the 2003/04 campaign, a selection panel, which this year includes former Toronto Maple Leaf Ron Ellis, National Women’s Team member Jennifer Botterill, National Sledge Hockey Team member Jean Labonté, René Marcil, Chair of the Board of Hockey Canada, and Neil Skelding, president and CEO of RBC Insurance, chooses one volunteer from each of Hockey Canada’s 13 Branches, as well as one RBC employee, and awards them $10,000 to put towards a minor hockey program in their area.
In the majority of communities, the money has been put towards the basics that these communities could not have otherwise afforded: new jerseys, more ice time, updated dressing rooms, new equipment and skill development clinics.
In other communities, the money has been put to some creative use:
In Sydney Mines, NS, the money from 2003/04 recipient Clint Lettice’s award was spent to set up a fund that reduced the cost of hockey for more than 150 kids over two years, and to construct two brand-new dressing rooms at the local arena.
Art Comeau (Saint John, NB) used some of the money from his 2003/04 award to take the school team he founded in 1971 to a tournament in Quebec, which was a thrill not only for the players, but also for the parents, some of whom played for Comeau in the 1970s.
Most of Barbara Anderson’s $10,0/05 went towards raising the morale of her newly-formed Elk Valley Minor Hockey Association in Sparwood, BC, buying complete sets of brand new jerseys and setting up a Web site to link players, coaches, managers and parents together with online calendars, schedules and registration information.
Jack Shymko (Ituna, SK) used the majority of his 2004/05 award to fix up the crumbling local rink. The $10,000 went a long way towards sprucing up both the inside and outside of the arena, ensuring local kids had a safe and healthy place to play.
In Regina, SK, Dennis Todd’s 2005/06 award was spent keeping program costs low for younger children and setting up a ‘Legacy Fund’, which will allow new programs to begin, including a girls’ midget team and clinics for coaches on how to properly run a hockey school.
Amherstview, ON’s Marion Budarick had one goal in mind for her $10,000 award following her 2005/06 win: the money needed to go to the kids. She made sure power skating and goaltending clinics were offered to any players who wanted them, as well as outfitting as many as nine teams in brand new jerseys.
Irwin Nicol, a 2005/06 winner from Nipigon, ON, made sure that his award got spread throughout his minor hockey association and benefited as many areas as possible.
Clinics for referees, extra ice time, new socks and jerseys and a new trophy cabinet were just some of the products of Nicol’s $10,000 award.
President of the Nipigon Minor Hockey Association for the past 25 years, Nicol has been essential in the growth of minor hockey in the area.
“Irwin has continued to ensure that all children within the community can play hockey regardless of financial stature, and has worked hard to raise funds so that our children can play the game at an affordable rate,” said Nipigon’s Doug Kashak, who nominated Nicol for the award.
He was a driving force behind the construction of a new rink in Nipigon in the mid 1990s, and headed the area’s power skating program for decades before that.
To show the passion that he has for minor hockey, Nicol often drives to hockey association meetings in other communities, trying to learn new things and make sure kids in Nipigon always get the best organized hockey available to them.
While Nicol was putting his award towards bettering his minor hockey association as a whole, 2003/04 winner Martin Porteous (Orangeville, ON) and 2004/05 winners Mike McMillan and Ian Gordon (Repulse Bay, NT) were using their awards to take their teams on adventures they would never forget.
When McMillan and Gordon arrived in Repulse Bay (2001 population: 612), all of the community’s kids were used to pick-up hockey. The two teachers set out to change all of that, setting up the first organized hockey team in the area.
But forming the team wasn’t the end of the plan for McMillan and Gordon: they wanted to take the kids to a tournament in Winnipeg, give them a chance for their first real road trip.
For six of the players, it was a lot more than just a road trip, it was their first time ever leaving Repulse Bay, located right on the Arctic Circle.
And while they may have lost every game at the tournament, they became instant fan favourites and media darlings, and earned the respect of opposition players and coaches for their sportsmanlike behaviour and fair play.
After their final game, the players were shocked to find the players from the other teams handing over their medals to the tournament’s real “winners.”
Porteous has coached the Orangeville Wolves, a team of developmentally-disabled players, for seven years, and has watched the team grow from seven players to more than 30, all between the ages of 7 and 45.
He used the majority of his award to take the Wolves to the UK last year, where they faced off against a British team which, like Porteous’ Wolves, is a part of Special Hockey International.
The hundreds of photos and the commemorative DVD show just how important the trip was not only to Porteous, but even more so to the players he coaches.
Porteous “gives not only his time, but also his heart to this team and loves every minute of it - he supports and encourages these players, and helps them achieve a great sense of accomplishment,” says Orangeville resident Lisa Henrick, who nominated Porteous. “Martin’s dedication to the sport of hockey and the players he coaches is instrumental in keeping the Orangeville Wolves alive. I can’t think of anyone else in our community more deserving (of the award).”
All 45 of the previous RBC Local Leaders say that nothing would have been possible without the money received from RBC Financial Group, and the doors the money opened will be open for many years to come.
This year’s deadline is January 31st, so be sure to visit www.rbclocalhockeyleaders.com to fill out your nomination form. Forty-six volunteers have been recognized so far, but many more are out there that deserve the recognition.