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Canada’s game, all over the world

Hockey Sans Frontières uses hockey as an international community builder

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Picture the weekday morning of many Canadian youth: 6 a.m. practice, Tim Horton’s, a frosty drive to the rink, and a solid couple of hours playing hockey with friends. While we often write this off as the quintessential Canadian childhood, Hockey Sans Frontières (HSF) is a non-profit organization that is quickly revealing the value and importance of the sport that is so much a part of Canadian culture.

Hockey Sans Frontières, or Hockey Without Borders, is a charity aimed at effecting positive change in the lives of children and youth all over the world by using the values of hockey. The organization sends coaches abroad, holding clinics and bringing equipment to underfunded, politically and ethnically diverse hockey communities. In this way, HSF aims to develop cooperation, leadership, and integration in youth all over the world. They have sent initiatives to Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, and hope to expand to ten more countries in the next year, including Iceland, China, South Africa, Mexico, and Israel.

Hockey Without Borders was officially founded in November 2011, and its roots were planted right here at McGill. A group of Redmen had graduated and gone to play for the Serbian national team, including Daniel Jacob, former captain and current assistant coach of the McGill varsity team. After returning from their time in Europe, they realized how fortunate Canadian hockey players were with established, well-funded programs, plenty of coaching resources, and equipment readily available. They felt the need to use their experience to help foster hockey communities elsewhere and give youth all over the world the experience they were so lucky to have had growing up.

In a recent interview with The Daily, two members of HSF, Matthew Robins and Craig Klinkhoff, shared their experiences with the foundation. Robins, a McGill graduate, and Klinkhoff, a current McGill student, became involved in the foundation in 2011 through their ties to the local hockey community and Fred Perowne, the president of HSF. Five days after being approached by Perowne, Robins left for Subotica, Serbia to help coach a clinic there. Although he was a long way from home, Robins described how hockey functioned as a bridge between him and the other athletes, serving as common ground off of which they could build relationships: “I brought my equipment into the locker room – it was the only thing I could really relate to and recognize there. Then all the players came in and we started talking and it was just like I was at a rink at home.”

In July 2012, Klinkhoff joined Robins on another trip – this time to Ankara, Turkey. Klinkhoff describes a similar feeling to what Robins experienced in Serbia: “From a cultural standpoint, we didn’t have anything in common. Hockey was the basis of the relationship we had. Because of that, it allowed us to share something with some incredible people. It opened a door to the community that we otherwise would have never seen – I had 20 friends the second I landed.”

In Turkey, the coaches saw a lot of positive change result from their coaching clinics. They met a boy who wouldn’t leave his apartment for days at a time,  spending all his time playing video games. After getting involved in the HSF program, he became more active, social, and motivated. He now hopes to play for the Turkey national team one day.

“Hockey is a social program, a way to keep kids focused, out of trouble, channeling their energy in the right places. It promotes working together and fosters physical activity. It has a huge positive impact on their lives outside of the rink.”

Hockey runs so deep in Canadian culture that sometimes its values and impact may go unnoticed. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean we take it for granted, as Klinkhoff told me at the end of our interview, elaborating that, “it’s just how it is here. We are very fortunate. You ask a Canadian why they started playing hockey and they don’t have an answer – kids will start to play hockey as soon as they can walk. Go to any of these places and they do [the same]. Even though it’s not part of the culture in these places, they still show the same passion for it, and that’s saying something.” And as Hockey Without Borders is expanding as a foundation, it is evident that the sport is valuable to many people, and not just those in Canada.