Dave Semenko's legacy to support next generation of players

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation announced Sunday an initial investment of $325,000 to Sport Central in support of the Dave Semenko Legacy Project.

10-year commitment will help ensure children in Northern Alberta can participate in sports

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation announced Sunday an initial investment of $325,000 to Sport Central in support of the Dave Semenko Legacy Project. (CBC)

In life, Dave Semenko was a force to be reckoned with on the ice.

In death, he's now a driving force in giving the next generation the chance to lace up.

The legendary Oiler and integral member of the 1984-85 Stanley Cup Championship team, passed away last June after a brief battle with cancer. 

The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation announced Sunday how they plan to honour the man many recall being larger than life.

"The Oilers Foundation is thrilled to find a home for the Dave Semenko Legacy Project with Sport Central, an organization that shares our vision of supporting youth and ensuring they have the equipment and means to play whatever sport they choose," said Natalie Minckler, the organization's executive director.

In partnership with the NHL and its Players' Association Goals & Dreams fund, an initial investment of $325,000 to the Dave Semenko Legacy Project will fund two Sport Central initiatives over the next 10 years.

Dave's Drive will be an annual fundraising and equipment drive.

The Dave Semenko Put a Lid on a Kid program will focus on increasing head safety and concussion prevention for kids in sport by providing new, certified helmets for registered minor hockey players and bicycle recipients.

Every helmet will have a #27 decal applied to it in honour of Semenko.

The Dave Semenko Put a Lid on a Kid program will provide new, certified helmets to kids in sport. (CBC)

Semenko's family and former teammates were on hand for the legacy announcement.

"Dave was a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan-favourite and above all, a friend to so many in the City of Edmonton and across the hockey world," said Oilers legend and former teammate, Wayne Gretzky. 

"He was such a big part of the success of not only the team, but the organization. He loved playing here. He loved the city and the people loved him. And so, this is a great way to remember the team and to kickstart something that's going to benefit a lot of kids down the line."

Wayne Gretzky at an honorary faceoff with one of the young hockey players who relies on Sport Central. (CBC)

Building a legacy

Semenko's brother, Mark, said the legacy project is an honour.

"It's a little overwhelming and unexpected."

He recalled how important playing sports was during his brother's childhood, and is pleased other kids will now get a helping hand to participate.

"I think it's more and more important now than ever that kids are active and if we can spend a little money and get kids off the couch and on the ice, that's what it's all about," Semenko said. "David would be very pleased and honoured like we are, his family."

It's a sentiment echoed by the Great One.

"You learn so much about the real world in playing sports. You learn how to train hard, work hard, prepare hard and how to be unselfish as a teammate," Gretzky said.

"Those are things you're going to have in your everyday life as you get older and that's why, to me, sports is so beneficial for kids." 

Formed in 1991, Sport Central was created to help children in need access sporting equipment. 

Since then, the organization has provided more than 135,000 low-income kids with safe gear.

That includes Tyson Ward's children.

Tyson Ward said he's thrilled the Dave Semenko Legacy Project will offer funds to Sport Central so his three boys can continue to play hockey. (CBC)

Ward has been an Oilers fan since he was seven, and remembers watching Semenko play as a kid. He's thrilled one of his all-time favourite players will indirectly be helping his own boys with their hockey dreams.

"This means a lot for me and my three boys cause they all play hockey," Ward said. "We've been using Sports Central for the past three years. All three of them got dressed from head to toe." 

The legacy project has many people excited for the future, but for others, it's also bittersweet.

"It's a wonderful charity, but it would have been a lot better if he'd been here," said a teary-eyed Gretzky.

"It's not the same without him."

And while his loss is still being felt, Semenko's new legacy will ensure he'll live on in the next generation of players.

The Dave Semenko Legacy Project will provide funds to allow kids to participate in sports. (John Woods/Canadian Press/File)


Alicia Asquith


Alicia Asquith is the host and producer of the CBC Alberta television news. She's previously worked as a reporter and video journalist in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Venezuela.