By Rachel Villari When you get historical greats of the game together for a night of catered pizza, putting golf and a walk through the largest private collection of Maple Leafs memorabilia in the world, there’s one topic of conversation that is going to be prominent: the game. When Wayne Gretzky, Brian Burke, Brendan Shanahan and Paul Coffey sat in front of 60 attendees at The Ultimate Leafs Fan’s home Monday, each in turn fantasized ways in which the game needed to change. All implored creativity needed to be reintroduced. “My son will sometimes just get on his knees in the living room and play with a little rubber stick, and he doesn’t think he’s learning anything,” said Shanahan, president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “And I say, ‘You’re learning a lot, you’re using your imagination.’ That’s how guys like Wayne, I’m sure, and – well, nobody can explain Wayne – but I’m sure he spent a lot of time as a little kid imagining ways to play the game.”
The Great One didn’t have to imagine the world different than it is, though, and with the advent and ubiquity of social media, having to do such is becoming more of a reality for children across Canada every day. The second annual Night for Change aimed to raise awareness against homophobic bullying. A collaborative effort between Mike Wilson – better known as
the Ultimate Leafs Fan – and Burke, the event is co-hosted by
The Canadian Safe School Network in early June. The organization strives to make a world in which every child feels safe at school. “I always used to say this to my kids: I’m glad I lived when I lived,” Gretzky said to the media prior to the panel discussing homophobic bullying. “Life is tougher now with social media and everything that goes with it. It’s tough. It’s hard on parents; it’s hard on kids. So for us to be here today to raise awareness and help people, to help kids who are feeling like they’re being bullied or that they’re alone, it’s a great cause.”
The night was launched on a blue carpet in front of Wilson’s home in Toronto, where the panel met with media and discussed personal experiences that motivated them to support such a cause, and their hopes in doing so. “We believe that a child should not be afraid to get out of bed,” said Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames. “We believe a child should not be afraid to get on a school bus. We believe that a child should not be afraid to change in gym class. It’s a 24-hour (fear) they live with.” “We’re all very proud and privileged to be here,” Gretzky said. “If we can help somebody in some small way, then that’s what a night like this is all about.” Attendees – who paid $1,000 a ticket in their support – then moved to the memorabilia room for a panel, in which a silent auction was held in support of The Canadian Safe School Network. One attendee paid $15,000 to play a round of golf with Gretzky. The night ended in the backyard with a private musical performance by Glass Tiger singer Alan Frew, drinks and dessert and, of course, more discussions about changes that needed to be made both in and around the rink. “Hockey sense can’t be taught,” said Hall of Famer Coffey when asked about what separated the likes of Gretzky, Crosby and McDavid from the rest. “But it sure as hell can be encouraged. We can encourage kids to make the right plays.”
And now they have the opportunity to encourage kids to make the right plays off the ice, too.