Blay: Playing hockey for a cause with Hockey For Heart

Leafs legend Darryl Sittler taking the ceremonial draw at a Hockey For Heart game. Photo Courtesy Roger Hallett

When Rob Weir witnessed his father pass away from a massive heart attack during a game of shinny, it touched him in a very special way. He and his father, Roger Weir, shared a passion for hockey, and after watching his father die playing the game they both loved, Rob was determined to keep that passion alive.

In 1995, Weir started Hockey For Heart and hosted a four-team hockey tournament in the Durham, Ont. region to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke.

Since the inaugural event, Hockey For Heart has grown into a series of adult, recreational-level tournaments held in various cities throughout Weir’s home province of Ontario, where participants register a team to play in a three-game tournament while raising critical life-saving funds for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“It’s a non-competitive, non-contact adult rec tournament that’s meant for people to have fun, play some hockey and meet some of their favourite players, and it’s for a good cause,” Weir told Coincidental Minors, adding that Hockey For Heart is expected to reach the $2 million plateau for total funds raised by the end of 2012. “It’s amazing to see the progress,” he said. “Going from a four-team tournament and raising thousands, to now having it in several cities and reaching almost $2 million is a great accomplishment.”

Hockey For Heart particpants (including Toronto Maple Leafs legend Darryl Sittler) at one of the event's stops in Alliston, Ont. Photo Courtesy Roger Hallett

The event raises money for research and medical developments for heart and stroke, in addition to purchasing and placing Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in communities across Ontario.

In recent years, the ProStars Game (where the top 15 fundraisers in each tournament test their skills against former NHL and professional players) has contributed greatly to the success of the event.

In addition to playing in the tournament, fundraisers are eligible to earn several prizes, including a ticket to play in the ProStars game or a chance to ‘Shoot to Win’ $10,000. This year, the top three fundraisers from each event will even get a chance to play on the top line with the NHL alumni, which Weir is calling the “15 minutes of Hockey Hall of Fame.”

Weir already has several big names booked for his games, including Darryl Sittler, Marcel Dionne, Doug Gilmour and the infamous Hanson Brothers from the classic hockey flick, Slap Shot.

“The participants and the pros always have a great time playing in these games, so it’s a good way to connect with some NHL greats and support a good cause,” Weir said.

Past participants include Johnny Bower, Wendel Clark, Todd Warriner, Tim Taylor, Jay Wells, Georges Laraque and the late Peter Zezel, while Canadian celebrities Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), George Stroumboulopoulos (CBC – The Hour), Andrew Scott (Sloan) and Gord Downie (Tragically Hip) have all been involved as well.

To kick off 2012, Hockey For Heart raised $60,000 at its first event in Kitchener, Ont. over the weekend of January 28.
For Weir, the success of the event and continued support he receives from community members and athletes alike is still rather surreal – a major step from his initial vision many years ago.

Hockey For Heart's Rob Weir (middle) stands with Christan and Dave Hanson during one of his tournaments. Photo Courtesy Roger Hallett

“It’s feels amazing to still be going after 18 years,” he said. “I’ve had so many great volunteers, NHL alumni and current players help grow this event and make it what it is today, so I couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out.”

And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

“I’d like to keep it going as long as possible,” he said. “This is an issue that’s never going to go away, so there will always be a need for further research and defibrillators in our local arenas and malls, so I hope we can continue to help the cause with this event.”

The next Hockey Fort Heart tournaments will be taking place in Arnprior, Ont., from March 23-24 (the Hanson Brothers will be in attendance here, and they are still looking for teams to sign up); Woodstock from April 13-14; Paris from April 14-15; and Whitby from April 20-21 (Doug Gilmour will be at this one, and there’s just one team opening left.)

For the remainder of the Heart & Stroke Hockey for Heart schedule or to register a team for any of the remaining tournaments, visit the official website at www.hockeyforheart.com. Also follow Weir on Twitter @HockeyForHeart

– Jeff Blay, Executive Editor
(@JeffBlay)

Photos provided by Roger Hallett/Hockey For Heart

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