Eyes wide and in awe, the HEROS stood at the top of the Empire State building realizing that there was so much to see in this world. New York was an additional stop after the Willie O’Ree Weekend in Philadelphia as part of the NHL’s Hockey Is For Everyone campaign. This annual event brings programs just like HEROS from all across North America together. For the past 19 years, HEROS participants have attended and the event this year included on-ice practices and games, a special field trip to watch State rivals Pittsburgh Penguins play the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL Stadium Series, a little face time with the Stanley cup and a surprise 48-hours in New York City to take in the sights of the Big Apple.
When Willie O’Ree suited up for the Boston Bruins in 1955 as the first black NHL player he didn’t realize the impact he would have on the NHL and future generations of hockey players. Willie breaking barriers in hockey has also led to the game becoming more and more open to women. HEROS is proud to support inclusion in hockey and this year we nominated four female players for the 2019 O’Ree Weekend, marking the first time we have sent an all-female delegation. Female hockey players from Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary contributed nearly 50% of the participants at this year’s O’Ree weekend in Philadelphia. This representation is substantial considering that about 10% of all registered hockey players in Canada are female. Allana, Faith, Sahvannah and Hailey travelled from communities across Canada to represent HEROS.
These remarkable young women representing HEROS show their dedication and leadership both on and off the ice. Allana, from the Edmonton chapter, is an accomplished musician and serves as a leader for the younger female participants at HEROS every week. Faith and Sahvannah have been in the Calgary Bowness HEROS chapter since the fall of 2014 and serve as leaders to the younger players within their program. Hailey comes from the Toronto Jane & Finch chapter and continues the trend of leadership, both on and off the ice, and is so proud of the number of female participants in the Toronto chapter.
This weekend marked the first time some of the girls had flown on an airplane, allowing them to broaden their experience of the world beyond their community. The young women bonded over this memorable weekend, building friendships while playing a sport they all love. One highlight that stands out for them is navigating through the busy sidewalks of New York with luggage and hockey gear in tow, prompting one of the girls to quip it was more fun than skating on a crowded rink!
It was incredibly inspiring to see so many HEROS female players, as well as females from across North America, representing the game of hockey and symbolizing that hockey truly is for everyone.