HEROS Hockey brought the teddy bear toss game to a team of Calgary hockey players with cognitive and physical challenges.
The idea to bring the game to the Calgary SuperHEROS team came from one of the players, Noah Kelm, after he saw the Calgary Hitmen’s annual teddy bear toss game last winter.
Since 2000, the HEROS Hockey program has brought the game of hockey to Canadians living with barriers that prevent them from playing.
“Noah saw the Hitmen do their teddy bear toss, and said he wanted to jump in a bunch of teddy bears. I said, ‘Let’s do it!” said HEROS parent and volunteer Karen Kelm. “I thought it might be a fun idea because a lot of the time, kids with different abilities can’t necessarily take in the chaos that ensues at a Hitmen game.”
The idea came to life on Sunday, Dec. 4 when 300 teddy bears were thrown onto the ice at Max Bell Arena after the opening goal was scored by 12-year-old Teo Finley.
HEROS Hockey’s Executive Director, Kevin Hodgson, said he first learned about the lack of opportunity for people with diagnoses that prevent them from playing hockey in the traditional structure from a parent in 2018.
“He came to me and said, ‘my son has autism, there’s nowhere for him to play. Can you help me, I want to start a team for him,” said Hodgson. “I said to him ‘I can’t imagine there’s not somewhere for your kid to play. You must not have looked everywhere.’ And that was my first mistake, ever doubting any of these kids’ parents haven’t looked for resources for their kids.”
Using the lack of availability as motivation, Hodgson started the SuperHEROS program in Calgary that fall.
“(We) started one group and thought well, we’ll see how it goes, and now we’ve got seven teams across Western Canada,” said Hodgson. “We’re getting lots of parents with stories to tell about how, ‘the doctor said my kid wouldn’t do this, this and this’ and they’re doing all of it now.
The impact that the SuperHEROS program has had for players and their parents is indescribable.
“It’s a dream to see my kids’ dreams come true,” said Kelm. “To see someone like Kevin and all the volunteers associated with HEROS Hockey to just accept our kids for who they are and really embrace them, and help their light shine a bit brighter (means a lot).”
In June of 2021, Hodgson was awarded the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. The award is given out by the NHL each year to the individual that has positively impacted their community, culture, or society through the sport of hockey.
We’re getting lots of parents with stories to tell about how, ‘the doctor said my kid wouldn’t do this, this and this’ and they’re doing all of it now. -Kevin Hodgson
“For a long time, where the game has let these kids down is that they’ve said, ‘when you can meet how we like to do the game, then there’s a place for you.’ And what we’re doing is we’re adapting the game to meet them where they are at,” said Hodgson. “There’s lots of barriers, and we just have to find a different way for them to play and we’ve been able to do that.”
Hodgson’s devotion towards the SuperHEROS program is readily apparent. He makes his way around the arena greeting every player and parent from all three SuperHEROS groups.