Friday, 6 December 2019

Game Day

Teams have been registered. Players have fundraised. Professional players have been drafted. Locker rooms have been stocked with all the necessities. Volunteers have arrived. The Hockey Helps The Homeless tournament is about to get underway for the first time ever in Winnipeg at Seven Oaks Sportsplex, and there has been a ton of work that has gone into getting this tournament off the ground. Smiles are starting to form on the faces of the players who have arrived early which is great to see, and we're hoping they multiply exponentially throughout the day!

The opening ceremonies kicked off the entire event as we had a number of VIPs stop by for the ceremonial puck drop including Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Elmwood/East Kildonan City Councillor Devi Sharma, Chief Dennis Meeches who performed an amazing song in honour of this tournament being played on Treaty One Territory, and our pal Dancin' Gabe. Mayor Bowman and Councillor Sharma were vitally important in the effort to get this tournament going as they truly believe in helping to get people off the streets, and they thanked the Hockey Helps The Homeless tournament organizers and the players - both pro and amateur - for their efforts in working to end homelessness in Winnipeg. It was a great opening ceremony for the tournament!

The opening game was played between the Canada Life squad, seen in red, and the Freedom 55 Financial team, seen in pink. These two teams are being highlighted because of the great work they do in helping Hockey Helps The Homeless. For those that aren't aware, Canada Life is the founding national sponsor of Hockey Helps The Homeless, and they provide some key funding for the organization to be able to run their operations in sixteen cities across Canada. Without Canada Life, I'm not sure that Hockey Helps The Homeless would have been able to raise the $16 million to date that has gone to organizations in cities across Canada dedicated to fighting homelessness. Thank you, Canada Life, for your incredible support in working to end homelessness in Canada and, in particular, here in Winnipeg!

Freedom 55 Financial is part of the Canada Life umbrella of businesses, but the guys in Winnipeg from Freedom 55 who got their team together - Scott and Scott - were amazing throughout the entire process in getting this tournament together. Freedom 55 Financial was the unofficial headquarters for the HHTH Winnipeg committee as there were many meetings held in their boardroom while Scott and Scott, both financial advisors at Freedom 55, did an incredible job in promoting the tournament and recruiting teams and players to participate. Scott and Scott built a great team who came out to have fun, and they did an incredible job in fundraising and promoting the fundraising efforts. The Freedom 55 team, for the record, was a fun and competitive team all day, and they looked like had a blast! Thank you, Freedom 55 and Scott and Scott, for all you helped with in getting this tournament organized, and for your amazing support and contributions in helping to end homelessness in Winnipeg!

If you're not aware, the organizations in Winnipeg that will benefit from the hard fundraising work put in by the teams are Willow Place, Resource Assistance for Youth, Incorporated (RaY Inc.), and Red Road Lodge who work with some of the most vulnerable homeless people in Winnipeg. Willow Place is a shelter mainly for women and children who have been displaced; RaY Inc. works with youth and young adults who need a hand; and Red Road Lodge works to help Indigenous men and women in the downtown core get off the streets. Each offers services, shelter, warm meals, and more for the people who arrive at their organizations and they work not only to get people off the streets, but to get them back on their feet, get the skills they need to find jobs, and get them the support they need to rebuild their lives after falling on hard times. Seen in the photo, along with Dancin' Gabe and Winnipeg Committee Chair Viola, are the directors and board members of these organizations who were out to meet the players who are helping them defeat homelessness. To say they were grateful of the efforts might be understatement of the year!

I haven't forgotten that there were hockey games played today, and I do know that there were teams who were looking to play some solid games today in trying to be winners at the first Hockey Helps The Homeless tournament in Winnipeg. However, I don't think the results on the ice matter as much as the results off the ice such as these three young men in the photo to the left meeting former Winnipeg Jet Nikolai Antropov. The look on the one young man's face in meeting Antropov is simply priceless as he looks thrilled to be meeting Nik, but there were reactions like this all over Seven Oaks Sportsplex today as fans, both young and old, met their heroes of hockey as the pros laced up their skates and signed a pile of autographs. It's these experiences that will last with these fans, and the chance to play alongside their hockey heroes will certainly last with the men and women who played in today's tournament.

The professional players who were on-hand today included John Scott, Georges Laraque, Dave Babych, Wayne Babych, Laurie Boschman, Nikolai Antropov, Morris Lukowich, Mark Stuart, Trevor Kidd, Russ Romaniuk, Ethan Moreau, and Thomas Steen. Hockey Hall of Fame member Reggie Leach was in the rink as a celebrity coach, and his Stanley Cup champion son, Jamie Leach, dropped in to say hi to his dad and meet some of the people who came out to meet his dad! These guys were incredibly generous with their time and their signatures as they autographed all sorts of stuff for kids, players, sponsors, and fans alike. Perhaps one of the coolest moments was seen in the beer garden today when John Scott, needing some hydration, grabbed a Trans Canada Brewing beverage and grabbed a seat with his team between games!
Again, the pros were just amazing in their donation of the time they spent with people at the event, and they really made everyone at the event feel three-feet taller with their amazing interactions throughout the day. To all of the pros listed above, thank you so much for making this first Hockey Helps The Homeless Winnipeg tournament so memorable by being awesome people. We are eternally grateful, and we hope to see you all again next season!

At the end of the day, three teams emerged as victors in the three divisions set up for the tournament, but they weren't the big winners. Originally, when this tournament was being planned, the Hockey Helps The Homeless executives set a lofty fundraising goal of $100,000 for the Winnipeg community that would go to helping Willow Place, Resource Assistance for Youth, Incorporated (RaY Inc.), and Red Road Lodge. Admittedly, having done a little fundraising for UMFM, I felt this might be a tough goal to achieve with the tournament happening less than three weeks from Christmas, with charity and fundraising season already come and gone in this city, and everyone busy with their own holiday parties and fun. As the day progressed, though, it seems that my initial feelings of reaching that goal were all for naught as the unofficial number grew steadily throughout Thursday night and into today.

So what total did we reach, you ask?
How about that total! $100,000 seems like a distant memory now that we see that actual unofficial total revealed, and that's simply AWESOME! A ton of credit goes to the people of Winnipeg, companies in Winnipeg, and the players and teams at the first Hockey Helps The Homeless Winnipeg tournament in raising that much money, and we'll highlight all of those companies tomorrow who played a major part in helping Winnipeg simply demolish the original goal total that was set!

It's late in the day already, it's been a whirlwind of fun, but I'm tired. These last two days have been a lot of work, but it makes me giddy in seeing the total above after knowing how much work went into this tournament. Tomorrow, I'll look at all the sponsors who made this great tournament come to life, but today is all about the three charitable organizations and the money raised to help them defeat homelessness in Winnipeg. With that, I'm calling it a day, folks. What kind of day am I calling it, you ask? A great day. An incredible day. A day of lifelong memories and amazing experiences.

That's what makes Hockey Helps The Homeless tournaments so great, and it's why you should volunteer at the next one in your community!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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