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NHLPA supporting youth hockey in Port aux Basques


Devin Smith of the NHLPA, (left) with Jake Allen, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, in Gander last Thursday, Oct. 6 for Kraft Hockeyville. – Courtesy of © Ryan Parker

By Lori Bennett

Sports Columnist

– with files from René J. Roy

GANDER — The NHL came to Newfoundland last week. In 2020, Twillingate won the Kraft Hockeyville competition with a prize of $250,000 for upgrades to their George Hawkins Memorial Arena, $10,000 worth of equipment from the National Hockey League Players’ Association’s (NHLPA) Goals & Dreams Fund, and a chance to host a preseason game.

The preseason game was delayed due to COVID-19, but finally took place on Thursday, Oct. 6. The arena in Twillingate is too small to host the event, so while some celebrations were held there – including a visit from the Stanley Cup – the preseason game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators was held instead at the Steele Community Centre in Gander.

With the festivities, for a brief time, hockey fans could almost forget the grief and loss that was inflicted by post-tropical depression Fiona only a couple of weeks ago.

But the NHL Players’ Association has not forgotten and they want to help. Through their Goals & Dreams Fund, the NHLPA will be donating new hockey equipment for youth whose equipment was lost or destroyed in the hurricane said Devin Smith, the Senior Director of Marketing and Community Relations for the NHLPA.

“I’ve been here several times before. I’m loving it. First of all, the people are just fantastic, so friendly and just so welcoming. I’ve been here several times for work and our sponsorship and marketing, but I also run our NHLPA Goals & Dreams Fund. So it’s great to be back and I know players are excited to be here too. Many of them have not been in this part of Canada. And so it’s been great talking to the players about the trip and coming to this part of the country and just loving it.”

The Goals & Dreams Fund is the largest grassroots hockey program in the world, according to Smith. He said the NHLPA has been doing the program since 1999, and the goal is “for the players to give back to the game… so we help with hockey equipment for kids, deserving kids, disadvantaged kids. And so we’re giving a donation here as part of as part of Hockeyville.”

Smith expressed his condolences and sympathies to the people of Port aux Basques specifically, and the NHLPA has been in touch with local hockey representatives to help replace hockey equipment for kids who lost theirs as a result of the hurricane.

The Goals & Dreams Fund is a worldwide endeavour. While most of the programs are in Canada, the NHLPA works with its members who come from all over North America and Europe and “anybody that needs help with equipment, we want to know”, Smith said.

One of the players involved in this year’s Kraft Hockeyville has a familial connection to the region. Drake Batherson of the Ottawa Senators has extended family still living in the Port aux Basques area. Smith has talked to Batherson about those connections.

“I talked to Drake this morning. We had a good chat. He told me he had some relatives coming to the game. I think his grandparents are coming, and I think he has aunts and uncles, and I think someone lost a house that he was just telling me about today.”

Smith talked about bringing professional hockey to smaller communities.

“When you go to places like this, and I’ve been fortunate to travel everywhere in this job and go to some, you know, some big events but as you know, these kids they’re not used to seeing NHL players or even seeing an NHL game. So it’s way different than an exhibition game.”

He talked about the opportunity to lift spirits in Newfoundland.

“I mean, first and foremost, this program – Kraft Hockeyville – it’s all about celebrating the game and the youth hockey and how they get the tickets and making sure young people get the chance to experience it… with what happened with the hurricane, I mean, it’s got a different vibe to it.”

Smith spoke of the opportunity for young fans, who turned out to greet the NHLers as they arrived on the red carpet. Stars like Brady Tkachuk, Claude Giroux, Cole Caufield, Brendan Gallagher, and recent first overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky mingled with fans, signing autographs, and posing for selfies, and bringing some lightness to a province in recovery.

“I think there is a little bit more positivity and people coming in and can forget it for at least an hour and a half, versus what they’re going through. Unfortunately, they have to deal with it after, but I think it’s all about the positivity of the game.”

Devin Smith is eager to facilitate the donations of equipment as soon as possible. He’s also concerned that all youth in need are identified and can take advantage of the program.

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