P.K. Subban: Helping hockey families

Editorial coordinator Laura Grande sat down with Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban and his father, Karl, to talk about how they're helping hockey families across Canada.

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P.K. Subban and his father, Karl, visit the Today’s Parent office.

P.K. Subban, 24, knows a thing or two about the financial struggles that come with putting a child through hockey. The Toronto-born hockey star witnessed it firsthand as his parents, Karl and Maria, struggled to stay afloat while putting three sons through the sport. Already a full-time teacher, P.K.’s father even took on additional jobs just so the family could continue to support their sons’ blossoming hockey careers. In this case, perseverance paid off for the Subban family as P.K. was drafted into the NHL by the Montreal Canadiens in 2007, with his younger brothers more recently following in his footsteps to the big leagues.

It’s no secret that Canada’s most beloved pastime also happens to be one of the most expensive. All over the country, numbers reveal that parents are gradually pulling their kids from the sport — a decision largely based on the soaring costs of equipment and annual registration fees. Despite our national affinity for the game and the vital role it plays in building a child’s confidence as an integral member of a team, hockey remains a high-priced venture.

As the public face of the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program (in partnership with the non-profit KidSport Canada), the Subban’s are using their celebrity for a good cause. Launched in 2012, Hyundai Hockey Helpers acknowledges the soaring prices by providing financial assistance to help under-resourced families cover the cost of registration fees and equipment. In it’s first year alone, the program surpassed its original goal and provided 1,817 kids with the opportunity to play. For more information, visit HyundaiHockey.ca.

We sat down with P.K. and his father, Karl, to talk about their family’s passion for hockey — and how it ultimately came full circle in their desire to help other kids play the game. Here’s our Q&A with Karl, followed by our interview with P.K.

Where did your love for hockey come from?

Karl: I came from Jamaica when I was 11 years old and my family moved to Sudbury, Ontario. I remember living on Peter Street and playing hockey was what the other kids did all winter. I remember that my first winter [in Canada] was when I was introduced to hockey, and playing on the outdoor rink.

How important was it to instill that love of hockey in your kids?

Karl: Well, I know what it did for me, socially, physically and emotionally and I really believe that children must have their GPS loaded at a very young age. What I mean by “GPS loaded” is that kids must have something to do, whether it’s organized sports or dancing. I love hockey because it was introduced to me at a young age and I wanted to introduce it to my kids because I learned some very important life lessons.

You had to make many sacrifices in order for your sons to play hockey, including working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Karl: There are many, many challenges for parents in getting their kids to play organized hockey. We faced many financial sacrifices and it’s also a large time commitment. We didn’t go on any holidays, except to the hockey rinks — those were our holidays (laughs). You’re sort of married to hockey once you get them into it at a young age, so the kids are married to it, too. But we loved it.

Describe your reaction to the news that P.K. was drafted into the NHL by your favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens.

Karl: It’s a dream come true. Growing up in Sudbury we had two channels — French and English — so I got all the Montreal games. I pretty much became a Montreal fan as soon as I stepped off the plane (laughs). Growing up a fan, and watching their games and learning about the players, when I heard [the Canadiens] call P.K.’s name it was unbelievable. Even today I still have to pinch myself just to remind myself that it has happened.

What has been your proudest moment as a hockey parent?

Karl: From a parental perspective, it’s not so much that P.K. made it to the NHL or that [my other sons] Malcolm and Jordan have been drafted (to the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks, respectively), it’s that they’re living their dream. As a parent we want our children to find what they love and then we want them to pursue it. You never know where they’ll end up, but your support puts them on the right path. And, as a parent, I’m most happy about that. We have our three boys but we also have two daughters who are not in hockey but they love their professions. When our children are taking advantage of life’s opportunities, than I know they are each growing as a person in many ways.

What advice would you offer parents who are considering pulling their kids from hockey due to high fees?

Karl: There are internal challenges and external challenges. One of the external challenges is the cost of hockey. We’re here to say, through the Hyundai Hockey Helpers, not to give up. Don’t take your kids away from the game. This is a grassroots, community-based program. Through it, children who are under-resourced will get the opportunity to play because the program will purchase equipment through a grant and pay for their registration. We don’t want any child left behind, standing on the sidelines. We want to help get them in the game. And, as a parent, I’m very happy about this program. Hockey provides opportunities for kids to learn about themselves and learn about what they are capable of doing. If it’s making kids’ lives better, it’s making our community better. And who doesn’t want that for our children?

Now we turn to P.K…

What have your parents’ sacrifices meant to you?

P.K.: Growing up I noticed that many of my friends and people I went to school with had parents who never made the same sacrifices as my parents did. I’ve experienced both sides — I have supportive parents, but I also saw friends whose parents didn’t really give them those opportunities to excel within a sport. They didn’t make the sacrifices, like getting up early to drive their kids to practice. It means a lot to me and, to be honest, my parents are reaping the benefits of all their sacrifices now. I understand how important it is for kids to see their parents make those sacrifices.

What was it like in the Subban household growing up?

P.K.: For many people, there’s usually some idle time after school for kids to do whatever they want. But we never had that time. It was always: go to school, come home from school, go straight to hockey practice or just start shooting pucks around in the backyard rink. I never really had the chance to do anything other than hockey [when I had free time], which meant I was always doing something constructive. On the same token, a lot of it has to do with parenting — making sure you’re giving your kids opportunities to do these types of activities, you know?

What is your fondest hockey memory?

P.K.: I’ve made so many memories! I’ve been playing hockey since I was four years old, so I’ve been playing for 20 years now. I think my best memory is getting up every day, knowing I still enjoy playing. That’s something that I’ll remember, even when I finish playing. I’ll remember how much I enjoyed getting on the ice. I love what I do and I work hard at it and I’ll continue to do that.

Share a memorable interaction you’ve had with some of the kids you’ve met through the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program.

P.K.: You know, last year there was actually a group of kids from Kingston, Ontario that sent me a letter. I didn’t have an opportunity to go out there to see them because of my hockey season obligations, but they’d sent me a letter about how they’d started a local drive at their school for people to drop off hockey equipment for the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program. I ended up meeting one of the kids at an autograph signing and it was a pretty unique experience. These were kids whose parents could afford to let them play hockey. A lot of these kids were playing AAA hockey. They weren’t kids who needed the equipment. They just wanted to give back to the community and help. So a group of them set something up at their school to help the program, which I thought was really cool. We’re having an impact on kids who can’t afford to play hockey but we’re also impacting the ones who can. You’re influencing not only the kids who need the resources, but also kids who already have them.

How did you and your father become part of the program?

Karl: Hyundai Auto Canada approached us with the opportunity through P.K.’s agency and I jumped at it right away because many people have helped us along the way, so we also want to give back.
P.K.: When I found out about the program it was a no-brainer for me. To give a kid the opportunity to be able to play a sport that they love and to help other families do the same is amazing. Seeing kids unable to afford to play hockey — which is a very similar situation to what my family went through — was something I understood personally. I can relate to it, I can understand it and it just made sense for me to help. I’m not only playing for myself or my family; I’m also playing so I can help keep the program going.

What lessons have you learned from hockey?

P.K.: I’ve learned how people work. It has helped me understand how to communicate with people and how to get people to work with you, rather than against you. That’s the thing about hockey, and sports in general. You learn so many life lessons. This program isn’t about getting kids to a semi-pro or professional level of hockey, it’s about giving them an opportunity to learn life skills. Hopefully, through that, they will experience success in all areas of their life.

For more information on the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program, visit the official website at HyundaiHockey.ca.

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