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What the Assist Fund means to me: Emily Heaney

The Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund helped Emily’s autistic son William find an outlet and fall in love with Canada’s game

April 5, 2022

I was told that William would never be a part of a team because of his autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But through hockey, William has thrived.

Before sports, my nine-year-old son was quiet and withdrawn. I put him in hockey when he was five years old and there has been such a great change in him – he has come out of his shell, and he can’t get enough of the game.

Hockey provides an outlet for William. With high-functioning autism and ADHD, the sport is fast moving, so it keeps his mind busy and is a healthy outlet to productively let off steam.

He and his teammates go through the different positions when they play, but he loves scoring. This year, they are learning the rules of the game, and the joy he gets from playing the game is clearly shown when he is on the ice. Off the ice, hockey is all he talks about.

As a single mother of four, getting William back on the ice year after year is a struggle. It’s hard enough making sure all the kids have their school fees, school supplies and clothing before making any decisions on the ‘extra’ stuff.

We recently moved, which put William in a different school. But seeing what hockey has done for William and knowing this is another way he gets to interact, make friends and build his self confidence, I knew I had to find a way.

A friend told me about the Hockey Canada Foundation Assist Fund, and I applied for William. Getting that funding was the difference between his hockey fees and some bills that wouldn’t get paid that month. That funding gave me the ability to breathe.

Like most nine-year-olds, William dreams of playing in the National Hockey League. I want to do everything I can to help him reach those goals.

He is learning so much from playing the game. It has helped him build his confidence and learn to be a part of a team reaching for a goal. He is building life skills on and off the ice through hockey.

For example, during the pandemic, Hockey P.E.I. mandated that no parents were allowed in the building to help them dress or watch practices or games. I was nervous because of William’s autism and changing of the rules that wouldn’t allow me to come in and help him.

He told me that he knew which way to go to get to his dressing room, how to get dressed and how to exit the building. Through that, his confidence and patience grew, and he is so much more sure of himself in other areas of life, too.

William didn’t know he has autism until this year when they learned about it in class. He came home after school and said he thinks he has autism and I explained that he did. He wanted to know why I never told him. I said when you put a label on something, you become the label.

My son is outgoing and tries his best at everything. He wants to learn and play the game with his friends. He has so much fun, and his coaches and teammates help him out when he needs it.

I get so much out of being able to watch William and all the players develop and see how far they come every season.

Without the support from the Assist Fund, we couldn’t be the hockey family that we are, and William wouldn’t be who he is today.

I am so grateful William and other kids across Canada have access to the Assist Fund so they can keep growing, learning and having fun playing the game.

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
[email protected]


Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
[email protected]


Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]


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