Oilers alumni lace up skates to help homeless in annual hockey tournament

All four rinks at the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre will be busy Friday as 20 men's and women's hockey teams compete in the annual Hockey Helps the Homeless fundraising tournament.

'I think an even bigger part is bringing that awareness that other Edmontonians aren't always as fortunate'

Former Oilers captain Kelly Buchberger skates in the Hockey Helps the Homeless tournament.

All four rinks at the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre will be busy Friday as 20 men's and women's hockey teams compete in the annual Hockey Helps the Homeless fundraising tournament. 

The tournament is held in nine cities across the country, with a goal to raise $2 million.

The $125,000 raised in Edmonton will benefit the Mustard Seed and the Jasper Place Wellness Centre. 

"Just the money itself is a big part of it," said Kris Knutson, director of programs at the Mustard Seed, which uses the money to offer programs to help the homeless get back on their feet.

"I think an even bigger part is bringing that awareness, that other Edmontonians aren't always as fortunate," he said.

"We have other Edmontonians sleeping in the river valley up near Mill Creek Ravine who are outdoors, year-round, and don't have homes and are really struggling."

Knutson said the tournament has raised money in support of agencies that help the homeless since 2013. 

Each player must raise at least $500 in donations to play, although players often raise much more.

In some cases, players raise thousands of dollars to skate alongside former Oilers like Fernando Pisani, Georges Laraque, Jason Strudwick, Craig MacTavish and former Olympians like gold medallist David Pelletier. 

"We've got these wonderful athletes who have played at a very high level, who really have become household names, and they have recognized that there's other Edmontonians who aren't as fortunate," Knutson said. "And they're willing to use their names to use what they've been given to help others." 

One of those players is former Oilers defenceman Sean Brown.

Brown used to police Edmonton's blueline in the late 1990s and early 2000s, playing a total of four seasons with the Oilers before stops in Boston, New Jersey and Europe.

'It was a real eye-opener' 

Brown moved back to North America in 2012, and he and his wife and their two kids settled in Sherwood Park.

It was an event organized by one of the parents on his son's hockey team that opened his eyes to how homelessness affects so many, he said.

The players and their parents hosted two meals to feed the homeless near the Kinsmen Sports Centre.

"We went down there and it was quite amazing," said Brown. "It was a real eye-opener, not only for the kids but for me, too." 

Brown has been part of the annual tournament for several years. 

'Challenge people's misconceptions about homelessness'

It all started in Toronto in 1996.

Co-founder and former tournament executive director Gary Scullion and several friends had access that year to some spare ice-time at Maple Leaf Gardens and decided to use it for a pro-am charity.

Since then, hundreds of former and current NHLers, players like Theoren Fluery, Mike Gartner, and Steven Stamkos, have signed up to help raise money.

"We couldn't do it without the guys who strap them up every single year," said Ryan Baillie, who took over as executive director of the organization two years ago. "Ninety per cent of our players return year after year, " 

"I think part of what we're trying to do, though, is challenge people's misconceptions about homelessness," said Baillie.

Committees in each city make decisions each year about which organizations will benefit from the money raised, he said. 

The games run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday.

Admission at the arenas is free and donations are welcome.