The Hockey Diversity Alliance is starting with the basics — ball hockey — in its objective to grow the game by making it more accessible to children in under-served communities.
The HDA on Thursday announced it has launched a ball hockey skills program for children ranging in age from six to 15, and not registered in organized leagues. The program, which opened last month, is free to attend with equipment also provided. It has been running once a week through June 30 at five community centers in the Toronto area.
The HDA plans to expand the project into the U.S., as well as launch an on-ice hockey skills program this fall.
The ball hockey program has already drawn 160 participants at the community centers specifically selected because they are located in predominantly minority neighborhoods.
“We know from experience that kids of color are often unable to play hockey because of access,” HDA co-founder Akim Aliu said in a statement. “We’re removing barriers by bringing hockey to kids in their own neighborhoods, so kids from every kind of background and every circumstance feel welcome in the sport we love.”
From Nigeria, Aliu played professionally from 2008-20, and is all too familiar with the challenges underprivileged children have in breaking into the sport after his family moved to Toronto after living in Ukraine. As a youngster, he relied on buying used equipment and taking public transit to travel to practice and games.
The HDA was established by current and former NHL players of color in 2020 to speak out against racism and intolerance, and with a mission to open up hockey to minorities.
The ball hockey program hit home for retired NHL player and HDA member Chris Stewart upon returning to the Malvern Community Centre, where he spent plenty of time while growing up in Toronto.
“I wish I had a program like this,” Stewart said. “Now, to be a part of a group that is bringing such a positive environment to my community is a blessing.”