Helping kids play Canada’s game

March 4, 2013


Hockey and Canada go together like fries and gravy. But for many youngsters, the sheer cost of playing the good ol’ hockey game can be prohibitive. Not only have you got to consider the equipment but also the registration fees. In fact, even some of today’s NHL stars, such as brothers P.K. and Malcolm Subban might not have gotten where they were if it hadn’t been for the efforts of their father, school principal Karl, who knows only too well how tough it can be on lower-income families to get their kids to play.

That’s why Karl and his sons have become ambassadors for the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program, helping to spread the word about a charitable initiative that, in its first year, was able to provide grants to 1,817 kids so they could get on the ice and play.

Hyundai Hockey Helpers, launched back in September as a partnership with KidSport Canada, saw Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. and its dealers, raising funds to provide the donations for the program. And of all the dealers across the country that participated, Nav Bhatia’s Mississauga Hyundai, in Mississauga, Ont. raised the most money, contributing $15,000 in October last year.

Bhatia is known as being a superfan and avid supporter of Toronto’s NBA franchise, the Raptors, yet hockey is somewhat unfamiliar territory for him. Nonetheless he sees that no matter what the sport, if kids are passionate about it and want to play, he wants to help them do it.

“Every year I’ve made a pledge to take underprivileged kids to a basketball game,” he says and it was through this that I got talking to Steve Kelleher (President and CEO, Hyundai Canada). He told me about the Hyundai Hockey Helpers initiative and that a lot of children in Canada simply can’t afford to play hockey. When I heard about that I knew that I just wanted to get involved — anything to help the kids.”

Mississauga Hyundai, like other dealers, got to work in October, which was labeled Hyundai Hockey Helpers month. By the time the program was all said and done, more than $420,000 had been raised, with Bhatia’s store being the number one fundraiser, pulling in $15,000 alone.

“We presented the cheque in November,” says Bhatia and Steve Kelleher came down for the event. “It was truly an honour. I’m so glad that by our fundraising activities we were able to make a difference in the lives of children across Canada.” He says that raising the money was truly a team effort.

“I have to credit everybody at the store, they all just got involved and they were passionate about it, I was really moved to see the level of commitment and care to the program.”

Bhatia says that as a result of the program, he also met P.K. Subban (currently a defenceman for the Montreal Canadiens) in Las Vegas, when Steve Kelleher announced the Hyundai Hockey Helpers program and the two of them just clicked. “P.K.
had seen me at basketball games,” says Bhatia. “He grew up in Rexdale, Ont. and understands how hard it is for kids to pursue their dreams. I took him to a Raptors versus Lakers game and we really got on well. When he’s in town we meet and often go for dinner.”

Bhatia’s story is an interesting one. He trained as a mechanical engineer in his native India and came to Canada in 1985. Like many newcomers he struggled to find work but got a job as car salesman. He proved to be good at it and eventually became a dealer. Besides Mississauga Hyundai, Bhatia also runs a sister store in Rexdale, which opened as a brand new facility three years ago.

Although the 2012 Hockey Helpers Program wrapped up in December, Hyundai is looking to do another one this year and Bhatia and his team can’t wait to start. “We’re looking to do something more aggressive,” he says. “The kids need our help and we’re only too happy to provide it.”

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