More diversity needed to save hockey in Scarborough

Jason Kotack of the Ukrainian Kozaks tries the wrap-around
on Irish Shamrocks goalie TimKnight in the Canadian
Multicultural Hockey Championships. The purpose of the
championships, held every December, is to encourage diverse communities to get involvedin hockey as Canadians.
Photo credit: Jon Brazeau and the cmhl
(Canadian Multicultural Hockey

Calling all immigrants, Canada’s national sport needs your help in Scarborough.

Without new Canadians signing up for hockey, there aren’t enough players, meaning some leagues may need to shut down, says John Kelloway, president of the Scarborough Hockey Association (SHA).

The way things are going now, Kelloway said, Scarborough residents may not hear the sounds of skates and pucks in the future.

In the early 1970s, nine hockey leagues had a total of 13,000 children, while today the SHA’s down to seven leagues with only 3,000 players, Kelloway said.

Hockey in Scarborough is dying. But, bringing it back to life has been a slow process, he said.

“Right now we’re semi-paralyzed, if not totally,” Kelloway said.

The biggest problem is that fewer new players are registering for the sport.

One reason is the cost to parents in registering and equipping their children. But another lies in the changing demographics of Scarborough, Kelloway said from the boardroom at the Don Montgomery Arena. A big chunk of Scarborough is made up of new Canadians who have come from countries that don’t usually play hockey, Kelloway said. But, he admits that next to nothing has been done to tell children of new immigrants, or their parents, that they’re wanted in hockey.

“We’ve done a lousy job of making the (multicultural) community aware of what we want to do,” he said.

SHA director Wayne Erison said the association has no idea how to go about attracting children of new immigrants to hockey.

“We know what the problem is, but for me to go into the Asian community (or others) and try to represent sports, it’s very difficult,” Erison said.

He said that it’s essential to get contacts within Scarborough’s various ethnic communities to help sell hockey to new Canadians.

That’s where Stan Papulkas, founder of the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships, comes into play.

The championships, which Papulkas first thought of starting in the 1980s, began recently in 2005 and are played every year in December. The tournaments involve 34 teams, each representing a different ethnic background, but the players are Canadians first, he said. There are two men’s divisions which compete for the Canadian Cup and the Heritage Bowl and one women’s division which battles for the gold medal.

The whole purpose is to promote hockey to ethnic groups that don’t traditionally play the sport and bring them together as Canadians, Papulkas said.

“That is where the root of this idea became just to start promoting hockey, specifically in Scarborough,” Papulkas said. “And, being able to grow hockey to those that are not playing it, because hockey is certainly the most common sport that unites Canadians.”

The tournament, Papulkas said, is not about pitting different countries against each other, but rather a celebration of the different cultures that make up Canada. Teams from other countries are not allowed to compete — only Canadians, and only the Canadian national anthem is played.

“We don’t want this to look like communities fighting each other,” Papulkas said, adding that players who fight are permanently banned from the tournament

Players are also removed from the tournament if they say anything racist. These rules have been successful as there has never been any sort of conflict in the tournament since it began, he said.

The tournament has received praise from everyone involved.

“Stan is doing a fantastic job to keep this thing together,” Mike Devine, who played on the Irish team in the tournament, said over the phone. “And I’m proud of him.”

The caliber of play also shows different communities that every cultural group is capable of playing hockey at a high level, Papulkas said. The championships are not “a beer league,” the players compete at the European Pro level, he added.

And, while Papulkas doesn’t agree with separating children’s leagues by heritage, he says that the adults make great role models for youth.

With the multicultural championships, children “can go out and watch the Chinese Ice Dragons or the South Asian Vipers and say, “You know what, I’ve got my own kind playing hockey, I want to play hockey too,” he said.

There’s also another benefit to the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships, Kelloway said. Many of the players in the tournaments have children, who often end up playing hockey as well. But, Kelloway agrees that children’s leagues shouldn’t be split into ethnic groups:

The children “should be involved in the Scarborough Hockey Association concept of hockey which is inclusion, not segregation.”

The tournament has also produced valuable contacts for the SHA, said Erison, who put in 14-hour days to watch many of the games.

“I talked to the Nubian team, the West Indian team, the Korean, the Japanese, the Chinese, I talked to all these guys and they all said the same thing: ’How do we get involved?’” Erison said.

But while these players are eager to help the hockey association get back on its skates, the league presidents are hesitant to make changes, both Erison and Kelloway said. Fearful of making mistakes and comfortable with the way things are, the presidents have had a tough time with the idea of going to the ethnic communities for help, the two men said.

“When there’s a problem they really don’t know how to initiate change,” Erison said. “And that’s why, when push comes to shove, they’re the ones getting shoved.”

If you’re new to this country, you might not know too much about hockey. But, Kelloway said that’s all right. He admits that he, as president of the association, has never played a single hockey game in his life. The most important thing is to bring people in who are devoted to helping shape the Scarborough community through hockey.

“I’d like to see Chinese and Tamil and East Indian and Jamaican, African, all of them,” said Kelloway, motioning to the boardroom table. “I want them in this room contributing to the development of the program.”

The solution to bringing new immigrants to hockey could also lie in a pair of skates.

Devine suggested the Canadian government should give a free pair of skates to each new arrival when they get their Canadian citizenship. This way they could try out hockey on their own, and see if they like it or not, he said.

“Just give them the opportunity (…) to learn to enjoy the pleasure sport of winter hockey (…) the way we do.”

Anyone interested in getting involved can find more information on the SHA website at Those interested in volunteering for the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championships can contact Eileen Papulkas at [email protected].

John Kelloway (right), president of the Scarborough Hockey Association
and Wayne Erison (left), a director on the SHA, say they need help
bringing new Canadians to hockey.