Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award finalists revealed

Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award finalists revealed
Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award finalists revealed

NEW YORK (May 6, 2024) – The NHL announced Monday the three Canadian and three American finalists for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. This award is given to an individual who has had a positive impact on their community, culture or society through hockey.

Fans are encouraged to vote for their community hero at NHL.com/OReeAward. Voting is open until May 19. For a second year in a row, there will be two winners – one in Canada and another in the United States. The winners will each receive $25,000 which they will donate to the charity of their choice. The four remaining finalists will each receive $5,000, which they will also donate to the organization of their choice. The winners will be revealed in June 2024.

Here are the finalists for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai (Canada), in alphabetical order:

Mark Burgin (Vancouver, British Columbia) is the founder of Diversity Athletics Society, a non-profit organization that provides athletic development mentoring services to encourage youth to continue participating in sport. Burgin acts as a mentor to young athletes to help them excel and reach their full potential. He is also on the board of directors of the British Columbia Hockey Federation and is part of its very first group which looks at equality, diversity and inclusion to make recommendations to make the more inclusive hockey. Click here to watch a video about it.

Mark DeMontis (Toronto, Ontario) is the founder of Sound Hockey Canada (formerly Courage Canada) and won gold with the Canadian National Sound Hockey Team. DeMontis, who lost his sight at age 17, founded Sound Hockey Canada to help build a larger sound hockey community and to help more young people play the sport. Today, the organization transforms the lives of blind and partially blind people by offering learning programs, development camps, and regional and national competitions. Click here to watch a video about it.

Allen Hierlihy (Hamilton, Ontario) volunteers with the Hamilton District Sledge Hockey Association, which aims to teach sledge hockey to girls and boys of varying playing abilities. The Association oversees 30 girls and boys and has three teams of varying calibers, with children as young as five years old among the participants. A lifelong hockey player himself, Hierlihy founded this community after his son became an amputee at a young age. For eight years, he has dedicated his time to helping others discover this welcoming community, a community he considers himself lucky to have discovered. Click here to watch a video about it.

Here are the finalists for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Discover (USA), in alphabetical order:

Jerry DeVaul (Colorado Springs, Colo.) is president of the Colorado Sledge Hockey Association. DeVaul is a U.S. Army veteran, double amputee, and sledge hockey player who is leading the organization’s efforts to grow the sport. Founded in 1995, this non-profit organization provides a competitive environment that allows young, veteran and disabled adult athletes to bond. Click here to watch a video about it.

Kelsey McGuire (Philadelphia, PA) is the founder of Philadelphia Blind Hockey, the first and only blind hockey organization in Philadelphia. McGuire is a high school teacher who uses her knowledge of teaching visually impaired students and adapts it to help girls and boys learn to skate and play hockey. In its second season, Philadelphia Blind Hockey offers free hockey programs to students ages 6 to 13. Click here to watch a video about it.

Estela Rivas-Bryant (El Segundo, CA) is the founder of The Empowerment Effect, a non-profit organization that teaches hockey to young girls in Los Angeles. The organization provides young girls with free equipment, coaches and ice time. Rivas-Bryant is a first-generation Mexican American who grew up in Southern California. After coaching minor hockey for over 20 years, she created The Empowerment Effect, which currently mentors over 30 girls. The majority of them are Hispanic and between the ages of 7 and 16. Click here to watch a video about it.

The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on January 18, 1958, became the first Black player to play in the League. O’Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, played professionally for 21 years. For more than two decades, he served as the NHL’s diversity ambassador, traveling across North America to visit youth in schools and on hockey teams to share his story and experiences. He also shares messages of inclusion, dedication and confidence. O’Ree used hockey as a platform to build character and teach different life skills in young people, in addition to using his influence to instill positive values ​​in the sport. In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To learn more about the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, including past winners, click here.

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