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Calgary coach who works with hockey players of South Asian descent wins NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award

Calgary hockey coach wins prestigious NHL award
WATCH: Nearly four decades ago, the son of immigrant parents hit the ice for the first time, falling in love with hockey. Now, he's been hailed by the NHL as a community hero, bringing the game to new heights and continents. Cami Kepke reports.

A coach in Calgary who co-founded a hockey school that works on developing the sport among people of South Asian descent has been named the winner of the NHL’s 2019-20 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award.

The NHL revealed Dampy Brar, who co-founded APNA Hockey School with Lali Toor, won the award on Tuesday night.

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“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,” the NHL said in a news release. “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.”

The Willie O’Ree Community Award is voted on by the public and is given annually to “an individual who – through the sport of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.”

In an interview with Global News in July, Brar said when he was a youngster, he and Toor “didn’t have somebody older who looks like us, or a South Asian or East Indian that we could get mentorship from.”

READ MORE: First Chinese-Canadian NHL player talks racial discrimination 

At the time, he said they hockey school serves as “a way to help our community with the game of hockey, and not only to play the game, but to educate the parents, educate the kids about the game and also promote the game in a positive way where they can get back when they get older give back to the people in their community.”

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“Hockey’s not just played on the ice. It’s how you carry yourself off the ice in a positive manner: having a good personality, willing to give back, willing to help others,” Brar said.

“Hockey promotes sportsmanship, teamwork, positive attitude, work ethic and all that, and those are the skills our kids and our youth need as they proceed in life.”

The NHL award honours former hockey player Willie O’Ree, who in 1958, became the first Back player to compete in the NHL.

Calgary hockey coach nominated for NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award
Calgary hockey coach nominated for NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award

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“For more than two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, travelling 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,” the NHL said.

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“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.”

The other finalist for this year’s award were Alexandria Briggs-Blake and John Haferman.