Wendel Clark is no stranger to charity work.
The former NHL star is a familiar face across the country, not only for his hockey prowess but for his passion for raising money for youth. Now, after nearly seven years of assisting behind-the-scenes, Clark is front and centre as the new face of Kraft's Hockeyville competition. "I'm the spokesperson this year and I'm helping get the word out," he says. "I'm the guy who will tell you about the competition; what it entails, how you can apply, and how we get the funds."
So, what exactly is the Kraft Hockeyville competition? The annual event started back in 2006, melding together the sponsorships of Kraft Foods, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association, to create a community-based competition for CBC Sports. Residents from towns across Canada enter their community for a chance to win $100,000 that will be put towards improving their local arena. Featured in segments that will appear on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada next year, the winning community also gets to experience an NHL preseason game hosted in their newly revamped arena. For more information visit krafthockeyville.cbc.ca.
As part of its promotion, Kraft Hockeyville completed a survey that revealed 91 percent of hockey parents believe that arenas are a crucial central hub in their community. "I'm not surprised by that number because we all grew up with hockey," Clark says. "What's probably most surprising about what the survey reveals is how many parents and communities actually need the help."
Years ago, Clark opened Clark Gardens in King City, Ontario — his family's private rink — to the public for charity and corporate events. Kids have since used his rink not only for hockey, but ringette and figure skating as well. "I like to help out where I can," he says. "And [the] is to actually help with the refurbishing of rinks to help keep them in good condition. That's absolutely the best part. It's something that is hands on and you can see the finished product and the changes that were made. It's great because it's giving back to the community in such an immediate way."
"The biggest thing about hockey in Canada is that it's our sport," he continues. "The whole community comes out to watch these kids play and cheer them on. In smaller communities especially, arenas are a lifeline for all age groups, not just the kids that are playing."
And when it comes to offering tips to youngsters with aspirations of becoming hockey pros, Clark offers a few words of wisdom from his own 15 years of experience in the NHL: "The biggest thing is to make sure kids have fun playing. We all play sports to have fun, so parents should make sure their kids are playing at the right levels," he says. "Sometimes kids are put at a hard level and it adds stress to a team sport that is supposed to be fun."
Although his years as a pro are well behind him, his refocused energy on charity work has made him an even more popular figure with hockey fans. But what does Clark miss most about Canada's national pastime? "I miss playing at the highest level, but your body gets old and tells you that you're no longer good enough," he laughs. "You can't do what you once did. Your mind says yes, but your body says no."
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