Game changer

- September 29, 2010

Suiting up in black and gold this season are Ben MacAskill, Nick Croft, Brett Plouffe, Patrick Daley, Justin Javorek and Dan Joyce. (Nick Pearce Photo)

One of the first-year recruits to the Dal Tigers hockey team, Patrick Daley doesn’t remember there being a barrier for him to overcome as a black player. That said, if he stopped long enough to look around, he was usually the only black player on the ice.

Which is why the right winger from Whitby, Ont. is enthusiastic about a new community initiative the Dal Tigers are involved with: to introduce young black kids to the game and get them excited about hockey.

'It's for people'

“After all,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders, “hockey’s not just for white people. It’s for people.”

The Tigers will act as mentors to 30 children between the ages of five and eight at regular Saturday morning practices running from October to March. With the Tigers acting as big brothers, giving them coaching and encouragement, Hockey Nova Scotia will outfit the kids with needed equipment.

From Digby, Lee Francis grew up playing hockey and still keeps active suiting up for gentleman’s hockey. But he noticed that there weren’t other black players coming up through minor and junior hockey ranks in Nova Scotia. Without the tradition of having your dad (or your mom) playing hockey, young black children weren’t getting involved in the game. “A black child in hockey is as rare as a pink elephant on Barrington Street,” he says.

And that’s despite Nova Scotia’s rich hockey heritage. Nova Scotia stakes claim to being the birthplace of hockey, when students from King’s College School in Windsor adapted the Irish game of hurling to the ice around the turn of the 19th century. It was also the home of the Maritime Coloured Hockey League from 1895 to 1930.

“These players had skills that rivaled the best players in the NHL,” says Mr. Francis, whose group, the Black Ice Hockey and Sport Hall of Fame Society, approached Hockey Nova Scotia to see if they could come up with a solution and get black kids back in the game.

“We did have a past here, so we thought, let’s work on the future,” he says, adding the initiative is not solely about hockey. "With student athletes acting as mentors, we can put them on the ice and give them skills. But it could also plant that seed: hey I can go to university too."

The announcement of the community initiative was made during a media conference for  the 2010-11 varsity hockey season, held Tuesday at Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame. Coaches Pete Belliveau and Lesley Jordan introduced their players and outlined expectations for the coming season.

Women's hockey

On the women’s side, Coach Jordan says she’s got a seasoned group of women to work with, including last year’s team MVP Jocelyn Leblanc and starting goalie Ashley Boutilier.

On the men’s side, Coach Belliveau wants to take the most-improved-team in the league to the playoffs. He’s recruited some new talents in Pierre-Alexandre Vandall (“a  blue-chip centreman”), Patrick Daley and Brett Theberge, first liners from the Peterborough Petes, Dan Joyce from Saint John, N.S., and Brad McConnell from Brandon, Manitoba. They join a solid group of returning players.

“We feel we’ve turned a corner,” says Coach Belliveau, who was hired three years ago when the Tigers were skating in the basement of the AUS.

That said, it promises to be tough when your cross-town rivals, Saint Mary’s, are the national champs. “I feel university hockey offers the best hockey in Atlantic Canada,” he said emphatically. “And we feel we can compete game in and game out.”?

The Tigers men’s team kicks off their regular season on Friday, October 15 in a home game versus Saint Mary’s at 7:30 p.m. while the women’s team will open up their season the following night, October 16, 6 p.m. when they face off against Fredericton’s St. Thomas University.

Decade Chairs

In other news, the Tigers men’s hockey team announced a new ‘Decade Chairs’ initiative to enhance and promote alumni connections. As part of this endeavour, Dalhousie has named a Tigers hockey alumnus to spearhead reconnection efforts for each of the last four decades of men’s hockey. Each of these groups will be invited back for a designated Decade Night during the season where they will return to Memorial Arena, mix and mingle with other hockey alumni from their years as a Tiger athlete and get to know the current squad.

Kicking off the initiative is a Decade Night at the men’s season opener on October 15 for the 1970s group led by former Tiger and Dalhousie Sport Hall of Fame inductee, Earl Jessiman (athlete 1978-79, assistant coach 1977-78, 79-80).

The second Decade Night will be held on November 19, with alumni from the 1990s led by chair Gord Dickie (1995-97). The 2000s group will return to campus on January 14 with Denis Aucoin (1999-02) as chair, while Darren Cossar (1982-85) will head up the 1980s alumni group for a Decade Night hosted on February 12.

“The Decade Nights planned for the men’s varsity hockey season will honour the efforts of former Dalhousie players that paved the way for today’s student-athletes,” says Dalhousie Athletic Director John MacDonald. “The university is extremely proud of their efforts, and plans are being finalized to make Decade Nights an annual occurrence for all Dalhousie sports next season. Please accept our invitation to come back to campus!”

Dalhousie also announced the retirement of the jerseys of two Dalhousie Sport Hall of Fame inductees. Jim Bottomley’s #8 jersey will be retired as part of festivities around the October 15 season opening game and Brian Gualazzi’s #9 jersey on February 12 at the Tigers game versus UNB. Gualazzi was a prolific scorer in the early 1980’s, while Bottomley, a former captain and member of the 1979 AUS championship team, was distinguished for his hard work and team play. 

- Dalhousie Department of Athletics and Recreation


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