Paul Henderson scores assist in Leaside rink fundraiser

The man who scored the “goal of the century” at the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union skated into East York Sunday to assist the busy community rink.

Leaside Memorial Community Gardens
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Canadian hockey hero and former Toronto Maple Leaf Paul Henderson brought his travelling Henderson Jersey Homecoming Tour to Leaside Memorial Community Gardens to help raise funds for the arena’s expansion.

“There’s not enough ice time for kids to get the ice time they want,” he said. “I think there’s so many benefits of playing sports. You get the kids off the streets and they are a lot better on the ice in the arena than out in the malls.”

Expansion plans for the arena were developed when it became clear there wasn’t enough ice time to meet increasing demands. According to a February 2011 report by the Leaside Gardens expansion fundraising committee, the rink has the highest usage rate, including in non-prime hours, of any Toronto municipal arena.

Mitchell Goldhar of SmartCentres, a retail development company and a partner in the Henderson tour, offered to match donations up to a total of $25,000, fundraising committee chair Charlene Kalia said.

“It’s such a huge thing for not only this community but the surrounding communities that are going to be able to benefit from having another ice facility and having another ice pad,” she said. “It’s great.”

The fundraising campaign launched in March with a goal of reaching $2.5 million of the $9.5 million needed for the project, which has a construction target of fall 2012. It has raised $2 million so far.

“It’s critically important to the health of youth hockey in this city that we have more facilities in this city either through expansion or refurbishment of existing facilities,” said Jennifer Smith, executive vice-president of competitive hockey for the Toronto Leaside Girls’ Hockey Association.

Travelling to different arenas in the city because of Leaside’s lack of space is a huge commitment for families, added Smith, whose daughter Sarah plays hockey at the rink.

“There’s been a very meaningful growth in girls’ hockey and adult recreational hockey,” she said. “Those two demands are putting intense pressure on available ice in the city.

“Having a facility, as we’re doing here at Leaside, helps meet that demand and hopefully helps minimize some of that travel.”

Don Valley West councillor John Parker, a hockey and skating dad, said he’s aware of the need for more ice in Toronto and supports the fundraising effort in Leaside.

“All of the existing public rinks are 30 years old or more,” he said. “We need it because there is more hockey being played now than ever.”