Calgary hockey coach in the running for NHL's Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award
CALGARY -- A Calgary hockey coach, mentor and former professional player needs your vote to bring home the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, named after a trailblazer in the NHL.
Dampy Brar, 44, is the Canadian finalist. He’s up against two American finalists chosen by Willie O’Ree out of hundreds of nominees. The winner will be chosen by the public.
“To be able to win it, I think it’s a big step in the South Asian community in sports,” said Brar. “It would be a great platform for our hockey program to grow even more and help even more kids and even more families.”
Brar is the co-founder of Apna Hockey, a program that offers a network for South Asian hockey players. It also helps educate parents, who are often immigrants, on how to get their kids involved in the sport.
“With Apna Hockey, we’re not just mentoring hockey, or teaching hockey. What hockey does is help them with their life skills, helps them with their self-confidence, self-esteem,” said Brar.
According to the NHL, “The Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award recognizes an individual, who like Willie O'Ree, has worked to make a positive impact on his or her community, culture, or society to make people better through hockey.”
O’Ree became the first black player to compete in the NHL in 1958. He lost sight in his right eye at a young age, but went on to play professionally for 21 years. He also served as the NHL’s diversity ambassador for more than two decades and travels to schools across North America promoting diversity, inclusion and confidence.
“He made great strides and he broke a lot barriers and that’s what we’re trying to do with our program,” said Brar.
Brar first started playing hockey at the age of five, and eventually played in the WHL then professionally for seven years in the International Hockey League.
Brar also worked with Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser and her Wickfest tournament in 2018 to bring the first-ever women’s hockey team to Canada from Leh Ladakh, India to play.
Brad also coaches his two children. He was nominated for the award by his wife Gurdeep Brar.
“I can honestly tell you there is nobody out there who loves hockey more than he does, who cares about the community more than he does and he’s so selfless, so giving, so there’s just nobody more deserving of this award,” said Gurdeep.
“He’s the only Canadian nominated and now it comes down to the votes so we really need all of Canada to support Dampy,” said Gurdeep.
The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award was established three years ago. Late Humboldt Bronco’s coach Darcy Haugan was honoured with the inaugural award in 2018.
Last year, former firefighter Rico Phillips, was honoured for his work with an inner-city youth hockey program in Flint, Michigan.
Voting can be done daily. The NHL said the winner will be revealed during the 2020 Conference Finals, with the exact date, format and time to be determined.