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Hockey blood runs deep in Leaside

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday this year. This grand milestone leads Canada’s millions of citizens to sit back and proudly reflect on the country’s accomplishments, triumphs, and favourite pastimes. It also allows for us to look to the future – to anticipate what this vast and dynamic country may hold for us in the years to come.

As a new member of the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens board, I have recently found myself walking through the arena’s doors, only to be bombarded by a flood of memories from my childhood that epitomize what it means to grow up Canadian, specifically in Leaside. I recall watching my brothers’ games well past my bedtime, and early morning practices of my own. I remember Friday night free skates, skating from boys who showed their affections by plowing a pound of snow at you with a skilled stop. I reminisced on burning my tongue on way-too-hot hot chocolates, and convincing my mom to give me a quarter for the candy machines. I’m reminded of friendships that were made on and off the ice, that remain strong to this day.

Hockey shapes the lives of so many Canadians, and it’s no different for residents of Leaside. While it’s nice to look back on the past, it’s the future of the game and its young players that get me excited the most. The growth and success achieved by both the Leaside Hockey Association and the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association serve as testament to the hockey blood that runs deep in Leaside’s veins and proudly pay homage to Canada’s most worshiped pastime.

The rapid growth seen with girls’ hockey in Leaside proves that young women are a force to be reckoned with on the ice. At its start, young ladies from Leaside High School struggled to recruit enough bodies to make two full lines to play against one another. This season, the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association (TLGHA) saw nearly 1,600 girls and women lace up each week. In addition to the success seen in these registration numbers, the league also effectively introduced an Introduction to Hockey program for girls aged 7-14, an age group not often accommodated with initiation programming. TLGHA learning programs for younger levels (ages 3-7) continued to grow as well, ensuring a strong house league for years to come. On a competitive side, Leaside sent more teams to Provincials than any association in the GTA, and two teams brought home gold from league championships. The TLGHA was also able to strengthen its International Development Program, hosting players from the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation to play and practise with a Midget competitive team.

The Leaside Hockey Association (LHA) saw over 1,400 players participate in hockey school, house league, Select, and GTHL programs, where thanks to the efforts of countless dedicated volunteers, success was achieved at every level. Most notably, five LHA Select teams won a City Championship, the most in the city. On the GTHL side, two Leaside teams finished first in the regular season (winning the Kraft Cup) and both went on to win City Championships. And as always, the LHA hosted its always-successful 27th Annual Select Invitational Tournament, hosting 116 teams.

The passion for hockey is stronger than ever in Leaside. The arena remains a haven where not only are skills developed and confidences lifted, but friendships are made and memories to last a lifetime are curated. The passion for the game is rooted in Canadian values – something I’ll be reflecting on July 1st. Here’s to the 2017-2018 season, and the next 150.

Colleen Atkinson writes on behalf of Leaside Memorial Community Gardens, Board of Management.