For many Canadians, hockey is an essential part of our nation’s cultural fabric. It’s not just a sport that we watch on TV. Many get up early to practice, train and dedicate countless hours to a sport that teaches teamwork, fair play, integrity and so much more. Hockey is a part of our communities and it’s one of the main reasons why Desjardins became a co-sponsor of Rogers Hometown Hockey in 2021, an initiative that celebrates hockey by hosting festivals in over 130 local communities from coast to coast across Canada.
As the NHL gets ready for the playoffs, Desjardins is celebrating its ties to hockey and the sport’s ability to bring local communities together.
It takes a village
Billy Boucher, CEO of Desjardins Ontario Credit Union, is one of many hockey fans within the organization. Starting as a player himself, he has now passed the torch to his two sons.
“Hockey is so much more than a sport; it teaches young kids teamwork and camaraderie. It brings a great opportunity as well to form friendships and bonds that last a lifetime,” he says.
For Billy, this teamwork doesn’t stop once they leave the arena. An important element for his sons’ teams, like many local sport groups, is rallying together to give back to their community. To them, that includes helping others less fortunate by conducting fundraisers with The Gift of Giving Back in Burlington, which has collected nearly 4 million lbs of food over the past 15 years.
He recognizes the commitment to the sport not only comes from the players, but the parents and families as well. “Between practices, games and weekend tournaments you create strong bonds with the families on the team and you all rely on each other to support your children and their busy schedules.”
The impact hockey has on youth is immeasurable. Todd Lalonde credits it for teaching him confidence growing up and creating long-lasting friendships, “Hockey helped me succeed in high school, college and with my 33-year, and counting, career as a Desjardins agent.”
When Todd was playing, he was very fortunate to have a lot of volunteers and sponsors. While playing for Junior Hockey Teams a knee injury ended his skating career. However, the motivation and determination he learned from the game encouraged him to pursue it in other ways.
Now, he’s paying it back and sponsors a number of local organizations including the Junior Midland Flyers team, Guys Who Care Group, and has been involved in the Desjardins Cares and Shares program for more than five years.
Hockey sparked his interest for many other sports as well, he went on to coach Special Olympics teams for 10 years, a special highlight being selected as the Ontario track and field coach for the 1986 National Special Olympic Games in Calgary.
Bringing families together
Desjardins agent, Stephen Ostapchuk, learned how to skate when he was 10 and still plays now in a pickup league. For Stephen, hockey was a bonding experience for him and his son.
“It was really a dream come true for me when I got the opportunity to coach and sponsor my son’s hockey team, and eventually play with him in a father-son league when he got older. It was a great bonding experience, it really brought us together,” said Stephen.
As someone who would rather be on the bench then in the stands, he coached for over 10 years. And his eagerness to give back extended off the ice as well; for over 37 years he’s been a supporter for Yonge Street Mission to provide underprivileged people with essentials.
“What hockey taught me most is the power of teamwork, especially from the community. It’s not only the parents that support the players, it’s also the grandparents and friends who wake up early to sit in a frozen arena with coffee in hand, that come together to watch the kids play.”
Whether a player, coach or fan, hockey has a long history of bringing Canadians together. While the pandemic strongly impacted both sports activities and local community events, Hometown Hockey is helping to bring back the magic of the NHL to local communities across the country. To find out if it’s coming to your town, see the upcoming tour spots here.