Posted on: November 13th, 2023. By: Connor Lamont, newmarkettoday.ca, Original Article.
This year, a record 18 teams will participate in the Dec. 15 York Region tournament at the Magna Centre in Newmarket, with the hope of exceeding the $200,000 raised at last year’s event for 360kids and Blue Door
Circle Dec. 15 on your calendar hockey fans!
On that day, former NHL players Brad May, Mike Zigomanis, Mike Krushelnyski and multiple other players with big league experience will lace up their skates and assemble at the Magna Centre in Newmarket for the annual York Region Hockey Helps the Homelessness charity tournament.
The concept is a one-day, three-game charity pro-am event in which average Joes can skate with NHL pros and Olympians to raise money and help fight homelessness in York Region.
This year, a record 18 teams will participate in the tournament, with the hope of exceeding the $200,000 raised at last year’s event. All proceeds go to 360kids and Blue Door, two local charities on a mission to end homelessness.
Erik Luczak is the manager of hockey operations in Ontario for HHTH and is incredibly proud of the organization’s work. He has recently been travelling across the country helping to run similar events to the York Region tournament and raising money to fight homelessness in those areas. Luczak also hopes to exceed the $3.2 million Hockey Helps the Homeless donated last year to charities across Canada.
“We try to leverage the passion that Canadians have for the game of hockey and build a bridge to beneficiary partners across the country to help eradicate and support the homelessness issue that has grown ever since the pandemic,” said Luczak.
Businesses can register a team and are given 15 roster spots to allocate to anyone they choose. The basic fee paid at registration covers ice time, meals and custom jerseys that include the player’s last name. Each player must raise $500 in donations for the selected local charities. Additionally, one of the many incentives for teams to raise the most money is that they get the first pick for the pro with whom they would like to play.
Luczak is already thrilled with the number of teams competing in the York Region tournament this year. He is also aware of how much fun the hockey tournament is for everyone involved, including the banquet held at the end of the day.
“The pros come out and socialize with the team so you get a chance to see not just the pro that you’re skating with but all the other pros,” said Luczak. “You hear from some of the NHL alumni on a Hockey Helps the Homeless hot stove and really the highlight of our events occur at that post- event reception.
Participants also hear stories from speakers who have struggled with homelessness and received help from Blue Door and 360kids. These moments are always the most impactful of the day.
Michael Braithwaite is the CEO of Blue Door and a regular participant in the tournament. Braithwaite acknowledges that he is not known for his goal-scoring ability and feels quite unnatural on skates, but believes that participating in the tournament is the least he can do for a cause he is very passionate about.
“If you want a great, memorable day where, by participating and raising money, you’re going to have a huge social impact, it’s a win- win all over,” said Braithwaite. “They put on a class act of a hockey tournament. It’s so much fun and professional. It’s a great day overall.”
Braithwaite has seen homelessness in Newmarket increase over the last few years more than other nearby communities. The reasons are unclear, but underscore the rationale for why Braithwaite dedicates himself to fighting homelessness.
“Despite the best efforts of groups like Blue Door and many other charities in the region, the high cost of living has really pushed new people into homelessness. As well, you’re seeing a lot of refugees coming in with different needs but still housing is a need,” he added.
Braithwaite does believe that the current Newmarket council is dedicated to ending homelessness in Newmarket and finding more affordable housing solutions.
If you are interested in getting involved with HHTH to volunteer, participate as a free agent or watch the action, you can go to hockeyhelpsthehomeless.com. The site also has more information on how to donate to players like Braithwaite.
For Luczak and Braithwaite, the York Region tournament is not only a way to have fun playing a sport Canadians love, but to raise money and awareness for an issue plaguing many in the Newmarket area.