Last Friday, people gathered to play hockey with their friends, co-workers, past teammates, Olympians and retired professionals at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
This was Hockey Helps the Homeless (HHTH)’s 14th annual charity tournament, which raised over $872,000 for 13 charities like Covenant House and Community Builders supporting those experiencing homelessness in Vancouver.
“When [my family] got to Vancouver, we noticed the homeless population here and it's a beautiful place to live, but I'm sure not from the street. So I saw the need there,” said Natalie Miller, a HHTH board member.
The organization has been helping address homelessness across Canada since 1996 but only started the tournament in Vancouver in 2008. The tournament coordinates former professional hockey players or Olympians as ‘star power’ to play alongside amateurs as a fundraiser.
“I think sport is always something that a lot of people can relate on and it brings people together with common interests,” said Yashar Farmanara, one of the participants.
Miller has been on the board for the past four years and helps organize silent auction items as her husband, J.T. Miller, plays for the Vancouver Canucks. All proceeds from the auction go to the partner organizations.
“To be involved in the community and give back to the city … I'm honored honestly,” said Miller.
Some of the pros this year include former Canuck Dave Babych, Rich and Ron Sutter and Olympic gold medalist Sami Jo Small.
Small has been participating in HHTH tournaments across the country for over eight years. Part of what keeps her coming back year after year is how much the organization understands the charities they are helping. Either in the dressing room at the start of the day or at the dinner at the end, participants hear from the partner organizations or directly impacted people.
“It's always tough to hear those stories, but I think [it’s] super important for us to put the two and two together, as to know why we're doing this,” said Small. “It isn't just simply about having fun on the ice, although it is a lot of fun.”
And the players have just as much fun as the pros.
It’s evident the atmosphere is great — each bench is laughing and chirping both on the ice and the bench. There are smiles everywhere as participants and volunteers talk about family, hockey and everything in between.
“We all grew up playing hockey together and against each other, and so anytime you can get together, it's always good and this is a reason to do that and a reason to do that for a good cause,” said Farmanara. “So I think you can leverage those things to create positivity and raise money and put that money to work.”
This uniquely Canadian organization uses the sport that means so much to so many to make an even wider impact. In the 27 years HHTH has been around, they’ve raised over $24 million, all of which stays local to the city where the tournament is hosted in.
“As we in hockey realize that the culture needs to change, this is something that we can really attach a flag to, to be like ‘This is why hockey is so important’ — because it creates friendships and creates community and it can have a positive impact,” said Small.