Thursday, February 12, 2009

“Hockey is for Everyone” Tonight at the Predators Game

Nashville Predator players Jordan Tootoo and Joel Ward appeared on Wednesday’s NHL Live radio show promoting the National Hockey League’s “Hockey is for Everyone” program.

Joel Ward, who is an African-Canadian, is having a breakout rookie season with the Predators. Ward has become a solid two way player this year, scoring eight goals and adding nine assists while becoming a leader on the penalty kill unit. His two goals Tuesday night against the Red Wings were a career highlight for him.

On the radio show Ward said, “I feel like I represent a lot of people as a role model and that is a big responsibility”. Ward grew up in Toronto, Canada around New Jersey Devils goalie Kevin Weekes who helped him realize that he could play in the NHL despite his racial make-up.

Ward said he looked up to Weekes who taught him “to believe in himself and his abilities and that he could go far in a sport that has few minority players”.

Jordan Tootoo, who is the first NHL player of Inuit decent, also appeared on the program. Tootoo claims that “it is a great honor to be the first player of Inuit playing at the NHL level. It takes heart and perseverance to get there but these days the sky is the limit for anyone who wants to play hockey”.

Tootoo said that the biggest obstacle for him was cultural. He claims going from a small town of 2000 people to an area with over a million in population was a difficult transition. Tootoo left home at 14 to play hockey and counsels others that “they need to have the right mindset and to be positive because anything is possible”.

The NHL has designated February as “NHL Diversity Month” as it actively pursues minority kids to learn about hockey and to play the sport.

As part of the “Hockey is for Everyone” program, the Predators will honor Willie O’Ree, at Thursday’s game with the St. Louis Blues at 7 p.m. at the Sommet Center.

O’Ree broke in with the Boston Bruins on January 18, 1958 and was the first black player in the NHL. He has held the position of NHL Director of Youth Development since January of 1998 and travels the country promoting youth hockey programs.

Former Predator Goalie Chris Mason is expected to start for St. Louis where he has moved into the number one goalie slot with the recent demotion of Manny Legace to the minor leagues.

The Predators are 5-3 since the all-star break but have dropped their last two games including Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Detroit. They are currently four points out of a playoff spot and play 11 of their next 14 games on home ice at the Sommet Center.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass and the Columbia Daily Herald

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