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Calgary man named winner of 2020 Willie O’Ree Community Award

Last Updated Sep 9, 2020 at 7:00 am MDT

Dampy Brar (right) on a Zoom call with NHL legend Willie O'Ree before winning the award that bears O'Ree's name on Sept. 8, 2020. (CREDIT: APNA Hockey, Instagram)

CALGARY – Calgary’s Dampy Brar has been named the winner of the 2020 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, the NHL announced Tuesday.

The award is presented to someone who “best utilizes hockey as a platform to help people build character and develop important life skills for a more positive family experience.”

Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, and his committee originally selected Brar and fellow finalists Alexandria Briggs-Blake and John Haferman from a group of 10 semifinalists based on “their demonstration of leadership, collaboration and behaviour that has improved lives and helped others reach their potential.”

Brar — who played professionally for the International Hockey league and West Coast Hockey League in the late ’90s and early 2000s — now coaches and mentors youth, and co-founded the APNA Hockey program in an effort to provide support for the South Asian hockey community and other hockey players from minority communities.

“I just want to thank the NHL for this award,” Brar said on a Zoom call with O’Ree, Harnarayan Singh and his fellow nominees after learning he’d won the award. “I just want to thank my family and friends for voting, and the support that I received throughout that week and when I became part of APNA Hockey. I’m lost for words right now … To have this award just means a lot to me and APNA Hockey.”

In 2018, Brar teamed up with Hayley Wickenheiser’s Wickfest to bring the first women’s ice hockey team from India to Canada, and provided coaching and mentorship for the squad. Brar’s also spent time in Leh Ladakh, India attending said team’s championship tournament.

“Our community is getting more versed in hockey and more involved,” Brar said. “Having a voice, and having the experience to play hockey and now coach and now [be a] mentor to our youth, it has inspired me, and it will continue to do so.”

Fellow finalist Briggs-Blake, the president of the Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization, led the effort to rebuild the Tucker Road Ice Rink in Southern Prince George’s County, Maryland. The rink — which was the home for the Tucker Road Ducks, a predominantly African-American team she helped start — was severely damaged in a fire in 2017. Construction is underway on a new rink, set to be completed in February 2021. Past working to find the team a new home, Briggs-Blake and the TRPHO also provide equipment and financial assistance to Ducks players in need.

The third of the original finalists was Haferman, co-founder of the Columbus Ice Hockey Club, a program that builds community and develops life and leadership skills in kids from some of Columbus’ most diverse and underserved populations. The CIHC teaches kids of all backgrounds in the areas of conditioning, academic support, violence prevention and community service, and has provided support to roughly 30,000 kids over the past 20 years.