Dampy Brar, Alexandria Briggs-Blake and John Haferman Named Finalists For 2020 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award
Dampy Brar (Apna Hockey) Alexandria Briggs-Blake (Tucker Road Ducks Hockey) and John Haferman (Columbus Ice Hockey Club) are the three finalists for the 2019-20 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, given “to an individual who – through the sport of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.”
Fans submitted candidates for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, with Willie O’Ree – in consultation and with the NHL ® – narrowing the field to three finalists. The public then votes for the ultimate winner, who will be revealed during the 2020 Conference Finals, with the exact date, format and time to be determined. Voting will begin Monday, July 20 and will run through Friday, July 24.
The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first black player to compete in the League. O’Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, went on to play professional hockey for 21 years. His perseverance is unrivaled, and his impact on the game and the lives of young players still is felt today. For more than two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, traveling across North America to schools and hockey programs to share his story and experiences as well as to promote messages of inclusion, dedication and confidence. O’Ree has used hockey as a platform to build character and teach life skills and has used his influence to foster positive values through the sport.
Following are the finalists for the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, in alphabetical order:
Dampy Brar, Apna Hockey (Calgary, Alberta)
Brar, alongside Lali Toor, co-founded Apna Hockey, an initiative that provides a network and support for South Asian hockey players. A former professional hockey player himself, playing in both the International Hockey League and the West Coast Hockey League, Brar works tirelessly to mentor and teach youth hockey, including coaching his own children’s teams. Brar was the first child on both sides of his family to be born outside of India and continues to play a major role in bringing hockey to his family’s native country. He worked with Hayley Wickenheiser and the Wickfest team in 2018 to bring the first-ever women’s hockey team to Canada from Leh Ladakh, India, where he travelled with the team to provide mentorship and support as an advocate for women’s hockey. Brar revisited Leh Ladakh in 2019 to watch the women’s team and provide them the support that female hockey players in India often do not receive. During that time, he also made a trip to a college in Punjab, India to mentor students of a roller hockey program.
Alexandria Briggs-Blake, Tucker Road Ducks Hockey (Oxon Hill, Maryland)
The Tucker Road Ducks are a predominantly African American ice hockey team in Maryland that suffered a devastating fire in 2017, which left their rink destroyed and their team without a place to play. Briggs-Blake, President of the Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization (TRPHO) and mother of former Tucker Road Ducks players, used her passion for hockey to rally her community together to build a new rink. Through her leadership and advocacy efforts, over $20M was secured and the new rink is projected to be completed by February of 2021. Briggs-Blake knows the lasting impact hockey can have on kids and does everything she can to provide access to the sport, including providing full sets of equipment for players and through a partnership with the Parks and Planning committee (M-NCPPC) offers low registration fees and accommodations for families who are unable to afford those fees. A community hero, ally, friend, mentor and mother, Briggs-Blake is an inspiration to the hockey community. She remains dedicated to the sport and has made it her mission to continue spreading her love for hockey and recruiting new players to the Tucker Road Ducks.
John Haferman, Columbus Ice Hockey Club (Columbus, Ohio)
Haferman is the co-founder of the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC), an organization dedicated to developing life and leadership skills in youth from some of Central Ohio’s most diverse and underserved populations. Over the past three decades, more than 30,000 kids, many of whom would have never had the chance to see or experience hockey in their lives, have been brought together through the program to develop core values to use for the rest of their lives. With Haferman’s leadership and more than $300,000 in disseminated scholarships, the CIHC supports and encourages participants off the ice to pursue education and become career-focused citizens. In 2019, Haferman partnered with local sled and special-needs hockey programs to offer a Try Hockey For Free clinic designed for athletes with visual impairments, resulting in a new hockey organization. Haferman continues to use hockey to build equality within communities, including wounded veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ populations in his quest to prove hockey is for everyone.