The Toronto Maple Leafs, in collaboration with Justin Bieber’s clothing brand drew house, are bringing a new ball hockey league to Toronto this summer, with the goal of providing more access to hockey opportunities for youth in the city.
The team made the announcement on Tuesday ahead of their annual “Next Gen” game against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.
The league, called House of Hockey, is being presented in partnership with Tim Hortons, and will be “an inclusive, accessible and impactful ball hockey program” that addresses the “number of barriers keeping youth on the sidelines," according to a press release.
"I'm so happy to continue our partnership with the Maple Leafs and my goal to help kids everywhere have access to the sport of hockey," said Justin Bieber.
House of Hockey’s inaugural season will take place over eight weeks beginning in June with weekly games played across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
“Players will be outfitted with the equipment and tools to enable their participation including training from skilled coaches on the fundaments of ball hockey with life skills integration as well as jerseys, sticks, merchandise and other gear provided by Maple Leafs and drew house,” the Leafs said.
“Building on this program's promise to create opportunities to play, donations will be made beyond the league to get hockey sticks and equipment into more local communities, expanding the movement and inspiring the next generation.”
Mark Fraser, a former Leafs player and current manager of culture and Inclusion for the team, says the league is all about breaking down barriers.
“We’re trying to break down barriers and create more access and more accessibility and make hockey the game that we all know it can be; the game that I grew up as a biracial Canadian kid loving to play,” Fraser told CP24.
“But knowing that not everyone, for different reasons – marginalized communities, socio-economic [reasons] – might not always have the opportunity.”
The Leafs say House of Hockey is a direct response to the findings of the Change the Game study, conducted by the MLSE foundation, which identified significant barriers that prevent youth from having access to team sports and the benefits they bring.
The study surveyed around 8,000 youth across Ontario, and found that income level, a lack of resources and ability status limited who had access, with more than half of participants citing that they are not actively participating in team sports.
“As a result, accessibility is at the core of House of Hockey by activating in proximity to communities facing barriers, ensuring all players have necessary equipment and knowledge to play and providing valuable coaching and mentorship opportunities,” the Leafs said.
Fraser says he thinks there’s a “growing hunger” in the Toronto hockey community to create opportunities for the new generation.
“We represent a very diverse community and a very diverse marketplace and it’s a shame that unfortunately not everyone [has had] the same entry way into what is such a beautiful and humbling and inclusive game at its core,” he said.
Toronto Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan says the team is committed to passing on the love of the game to the next generation of hockey fans.
"For many of us growing up, our introduction into the sport of hockey was simply a stick, a tennis ball and a pair of running shoes,” he said in the release.
“Alongside Justin and drew house, we look forward to empowering the future of hockey and taking steps to ensure youths that want to play have an opportunity to do so."
Fraser says House of Hockey will go straight to those GTA communities where youth face the most barriers and provide the necessary equipment, coaching and mentorship opportunities to allow them access to the game.
“Some other sports, all you need maybe is one piece of equipment and a ball, and that’s what we’re trying to do with hockey,” he said.
“Making it as easy as that, just having a stick and a ball and being able to play and gain that love and that fandom and grow Leafs Nation to what we actually know [it is] and how it's represented.”