The Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award recognizes an individual who - through the game of hockey - has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.
Debbie Bland of Etobicoke is one of three finalists for the inaugural award and can use our support. She has made and continues to make a tremendous contribution to female hockey over the last 25 years. As Co-founder/Builder of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League, dedicated Coach, Referee in Chief and Mentor, Debbie has directly led and assisted hundreds of girls and young women over the years to develop their confidence to not only excel in hockey, but feel included in sport and develop a lasting passion for the game and their community!
Debbie's perseverance and giving to female hockey is endless. However, what stands out the most has been her direct actions to help build young girls characters and confidence. Debbie has provided countless young players with the tools and coping techniques to face not only adversity on the ice, but more importantly outside the safety of the rink and the dressing room.
For example, recently a 9 year old player was having challenges facing the pressures of hockey and life before a big game; Debbie discreetly and quietly in her comforting way took the girl aside and using her last few drops of coffee, poured it down the dressing room drain to demonstrate to the young player how life's worries can be controlled and how to let go, so that the player could move on and enjoy her game that day. With Debbie it is about teaching the girls about life lessons and how to face challenges head on. For the players that have come through the Dolphins under Debbie's guidance, they have grown and developed into strong young females.
Debbie Bland epitomizes the definition of a hockey leader and community hero, who unselfishly has given and continues to give so much to help young girls succeed in hockey and in everyday life in our community.
Nominees for the award have demonstrated an impressive record of leadership, collaboration or behavior that has transcended the sport, improving lives and helping others reach their potential. As outlined by the Hockey Principles, participation offers families value beyond making an individual a better player or even a better athlete. This award aims to recognize community heroes who seize everyday opportunities to make better people through hockey.
On January 18, 1958, Willie O'Ree became the first black player to compete in the NHL when he took the ice for the Boston Bruins. 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 and 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.
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