HEROS Hockey executive director Kevin Hodgson up for NHL Community Hero Award

Kevin Hodgson recognizes hockey should be for everyone. Now, the HEROS Hockey executive director is being recognized himself.

He has been nominated for the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, recognizing those who have made a positive impact in their community, culture or society through hockey.

“Anybody who does work to try to make the community a better place, nobody does it for awards or recognition,” Hodgson said. “But on the day that I found out I was a nominee for the Willie O’Ree award, it was a little different.

“I’ve had the benefit of spending lots of time with Mr. O’Ree over the years and getting to know him and programs like ours, we have to see ourselves as legacies for what he started.”

Read more: Calgary-created hockey program giving kids chance to be SuperHEROS

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For the past two decades, Hodgson has been running HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society) Hockey, a program that empowers at-risk youth and gets them involved in the game, along with the Superheros program, which provides youth living with physical and cognitive challenges the chance to hit the ice.

Programs are currently being offered in 24 communities across Canada, including in Regina.

“When we started in 2000, the goal was really just to make sure kids who couldn’t afford to play the game, had a place to play,” said Hodgson. “I’ve always said if we can give kids the opportunity to do things that they had long ago given up hope of doing, like playing hockey, like being part of a team, the most incredibly powerful thing in the world is a kid who didn’t believe in themselves who does now.

“If a kid falls down seven times on the ice, we have to teach them to get up eight times.”

First handed out in 2017-28, the award is named after Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first Black player to play in the NHL. After his playing career, O’Ree served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador where he worked closely with HEROS Hockey programs across the country.

Hodgson is one of three individuals from across North America up for the award, which comes with $25,000 USD. The two other finalists will receive $5,000 each.

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Read more: HEROS program comes to Regina, eases challenges for kids playing hockey

“$25,000 would mean more players on the ice in Canada who right now don’t have a chance to play,” said Hodgson. “But beyond that, it would be rocket fuel for us to make sure we are everywhere we need to be, we are advocates for marginalized communities and kids from backgrounds that hockey is left behind.

“All of our players have been told or made to feel like they don’t belong in hockey. We need to be an advocate and a voice.”

Hodgson also says this nomination is on behalf of the 300 volunteers and 900 kids across the country who are part of the program. And while he says the recognition is nice, the smiles he sees when kids are in the program are more than enough.

“Big recognition is nice, but it’s the little stuff and just seeing every week what this program does and watching how it makes kids believe that things are possible but being able to watch the spirit of volunteerism (as well),” Hodgson said.

Voting is open now at www.nhl.com/fans/willie-oree-community-hero-award and closes Fri. June 10 at 11 am CT.

Click to play video: 'Calgary hockey program turning out SuperHEROS' Calgary hockey program turning out SuperHEROS

Calgary hockey program turning out SuperHEROS – Aug 12, 2020

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