A fitting surprise awaited Swift Current Broncos legend Sheldon Kennedy, at the opening ceremony of the Sheldon Kennedy Youth Outdoor Classic Thursday afternoon.
The youth 3-on-3 tournament kicked off today, and runs through Saturday as part of Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada in Riverdene Park.
A sign was unveiled nearing the finale of the opening ceremony and speeches, declaring the outdoor rink and facility 'Sheldon Kennedy Rink'.
"It's an honour, said Kennedy, who was teary-eyed during the unveiling. "I did things in my life that I thought were right, and I thought were important. Now you're seeing a park and a rink bearing your name... it just means a lot."
"When I first told my story, it wasn't real popular - nobody really wanted to talk about the issues that Sheldon Kennedy represents. Now, I think people are finally realizing that this is important, we need to take a stand, and it's really very impactful on our kids and our communities when we're not putting this at the forefront. That's really I think what has made me emotional at this."
Kennedy who, along with former Swift Current mayor Jerrod Schafer, founded the Safe Places Youth Initiative, says the spirit of what an outdoor rink represents to so many Canadians makes seeing his name on here all the more gratifying.
"It's awesome, because I think that the game of hockey offers so much. It can teach so much, it's not always about making the NHL. What we know is it's critical to keep kids involved, and keep kids engaged," Kennedy noted, also thrilled to have the self-titled youth tournament played on the ice surface bearing his name.
"Basically, that's what we're trying to do - make sure that we continually keep kids involved, and keep them engaged, and not have them drop out. We know that one of the best medicines for mental health is exercise and activity. That's what we've got to keep in mind, and make sure we're being welcoming, open, and transparent, and allow whoever wants to come and play, play. I think that's the concept of the outdoor classic."
As part of the Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada events, yet another special touch to the surprise was having long-time friend, and notable name Ron MacLean there to witness things come full-circle.
- Kennedy and Ron MacLean (right) shake hands after the emotional moment. Kennedy and Ron MacLean (right) shake hands after the emotional moment.
"Well Ron is an icon in Canada, and in hockey around the world," Kennedy said. "To have Ron here today meant a ton. To have him be a voice around Safe Places, the work that we do, the Sheldon Kennedy Outdoor Classic, is huge for the issues. Nobody wanted to be a part of these issues at one point. To me, it shows me, with Ron here, it's important. That, I think is critical. Ron's a friend, and I'm just really proud that he showed up here today."
Full-circle, indeed, for the Memorial Cup Champion, and NHLer to see the 14 letters of his name grace the side of a facility meant for the very group he's fought hard to be an advocate and voice for.
"Sheldon Kennedy represents the issues of child abuse. To me, it's about the importance of understanding that here, and that's basically what my name is - so if they put my name up, that means that they care about making a difference."