Hockey Canada fund offers help to youth players returning from pandemic pause

Marie-Philip Poulin will captain the Canadian women’s hockey team, which will include rising blueliner Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton, at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Getting to that career point, through the various youth levels, isn’t cheap.

“Hockey is a very expensive sport,” said Poulin.

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The pandemic hasn’t helped.

So the Hockey Canada Foundation has launched a $1-million fund to help young Canadian players return to the sport.

“I know my parents could have used the help,” said Poulin.

Poulin, former NHL great Jarome Iginla and 2006 Turin Winter Paralympics hockey gold medallist Greg Westlake are the ambassadors for the program.

“With job losses and reduced incomes affecting so many, young Canadians need our help more than ever to get back into hockey,” Donna Iampieri, executive director of the Hockey Canada Foundation, said in a statement.

“Our Assist Fund, and the support of our amazing athletes and sponsors, represents our combined ongoing commitment to providing access to the game.”

Information on how to apply for or donate to the fund can be found at AssistFund. According the Hockey Canada Foundation, 45 per cent of hockey parents are concerned about the mental health of their children during COVID-19. It is estimated there will be a $5-million deficit in funding needed to help Canadian youth return to hockey.

“Hockey is so important to Canadians, especially the youth, and that’s why I think this program is tremendously important,” Poulin said from Montreal.

She knows, however, the return to sport will not be a simple process for anyone. Poulin is in a pandemic hot spot, with rink time again limited in Quebec.

“We were going well in July and August, in terms of ice time, but there are so many restrictions again now that it’s hard to get ice time. We are trying to stay positive through all this.”

The national team program is keeping in touch through Zoom. “We are staying connected and focused, and taking care of each other virtually.”

But of more immediate concern than Beijing 2022 are the Canadian athletes training for next year’s delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Montreal, like Greater Victoria, is a training hub for those athletes.

“My heart right now is with our Canadian Summer Games athletes,” Poulin said.

“There is a group of them training in Montreal and they are grinding it out and hoping for the best.”

As for the future of women’s hockey post-COVID, Poulin is optimistic about the potential for a pro league. “The WNBA is obviously the model we are looking at,” she said.

That could be good career news, especially for younger players such as 23-year-old Islander Zandee-Hart.

“I believe our next generation has a bright future and Micah [Zandee-Hart] is easily one of those players,” said 29-year-old Poulin, who won Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, and silver at Pyeongchang 2018.

“She is so mature for her age.”

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