Supporting hockey in Thorncliffe Park

The Royal Bank of Canada has begun an initiative to raise interest in hockey at the grassroots level — and 24 lucky students in grades 4 and 5 at Thorncliffe Park Public School are some of the first to reap the rewards.
On Nov. 29, Steve Yzerman, general manager of theNHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, helped Jennifer Tory and Jim Little from RBC present the children with hockey sticks, skates, helmets and gloves.
Aamir Sukhera, youth outreach worker at the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office (TNO, said he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s a dream of every kid here to play ice hockey, but it’s not a dream that’s attainable — the skates, the equipment, the league fees and all that. It’s not affordable,” said Sukhera.
“It’s simple,” said Tory. “Without skates to tie, volunteers to teach, coaches to inspire and ice to skate on, the game of hockey simply would not happen.”
Toronto is one of three Canadian cities to first receive $25,000 from RBC, part of a $1 million initiative to start hockey programs throughout North America over the next year. Edmonton and Montreal also received grants on the same day.
Along with the Bauer hockey equipment on hand, RBC earmarked the grant to fund two new programs in the area: a learn-to-skate program and a ball hockey program.
Yzerman beamed after handing out the gear to the kids, who earned the reward thanks to their participation in an after-school homework program, also put on by RBC.
“It’s tremendous to see these young kids very excited about playing, and innocent and just playing to enjoy the sport in any way they can,” said the former Detroit Red Wings star and recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. “Much like, I would say, all NHL players started out, myself included.”
The TNO was responsible for approaching the kids. Its youth program co-ordinator, Marijana Cuvalo, was also on hand to witness the event.
“We’ve got the largest newcomer community in Canada,” said Cuvalo. “So there’s a lot of youth that have grown up without (the opportunity to play hockey) and now there’s a younger generation that could probably lace up the skates and take to the ice for the first time.”
But Cuvalo also wanted to ensure that the effort to get these kids playing hockey wouldn’t stop at gear and the ball hockey game that took place afterward.
“Now it’s about us, making sure that we find the time, the space and the creation of a work plan — hopefully in the new year,” she said.
Sukhera agrees: “More than the money, the profile (of being nominated by RBC) will push the politicians to give us what we need,” he said. “We need ice time, we need a place to play.”
“Our goal is to have one kid from Thorncliffe playing in the NHL, and it’s going to start with these younger guys,” he said.