In a Leafs organization that thrives on volunteerism, the players are right in there rolling up their sleeves and giving back.
Giving 110 per cent off the ice is just as important as what happens at the rink. Coach Frank Maida says working in the community is an important component of being a hockey player.
“The fans come and support the players and support the team and we feel it’s very important to give back to our community,” he says.
Michelle MacLean is a volunteer director on the Leafs board. She helps organize some of the volunteers schedule.
Among other tasks, the players volunteer at Our Daily Bread three lunches a week, they help out at CanSkate, and spend time in schools throughout the Nelson area. They also assist at special events like the Queen City Cruise that took place in September.
“This is all between their own school and jobs and practices and other stuff they have to get done in a day — they have two gym sessions and an ice session,” says MacLean. “They’re busy.”
Leafs number 27 Darnel St. Pierre doesn’t mind being busy. From Kelowna, the 18-year-old is embracing his new community, ready to help out off the ice.
“It’s nice to give back to the community. Everyone comes out to support us and we try to do what we can to get out and reach out to our fans and meet everybody and help them be a part of our team and be involved.”
When fans fill the NDCC, the players they cheer for are geared up from head to toe so when the young men head out into the community, it’s an opportunity for people to put a face to a player number.
St. Pierre says, “If they get to know us off the ice, that’s awesome.”
The community benefits from strong capable helping hands and the Leafs organization benefits from having such positive ambassadors. But the players are also personally rewarded for giving time to others as well. MacLean says it builds character.
“When they’re out there it’s beneficial for them to know they’re representing themselves as a person and their team,” she says.
Of course there are some posts that the players enjoy more than others with spending time with the youngest fans at the top of the list.
“They’re all over it. They love getting out there, being a buddy and having kids look up to them — inspire the younger kids,” MacLean says.
MacLean explains the players know that their profile in the general community is important as well.
St. Pierre understands that there are many groups needing a helping hand in the community and reaching out isn’t always about enjoyment — though it helps.
“On ice stuff working with the kids is always fun,” he says. “But everyone needs stuff done.
The Leafs organization also needs stuff done and volunteers do most of that as well. From members of the board like MacLean to the water boys to the security team to the helpers from Bigby Place set up on the concourse, lending a hand is key.
“It’s a great organization. They have a strong program put in place for volunteers,” MacLean says. “It doesn’t matter what age or physical ability, there’s a spot for you.”
Really, when it comes to giving back to the people who fill the seats at their games, St. Pierre says it’s not as much about ensuring the chores are done, rather showing appreciation for support.
“The fan support here is awesome and we appreciate all the team does for us and the community does for us,” he says.
The Leafs play in the Okanagan this weekend taking on North Okanagan, Kelowna and Summerland. They’re back at home the first Saturday of November. Taking on the Braves in Spokane on Friday, they play Osoyoos at the NDCC on Saturday.