Hockey Day in Mexico

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:02 PM ET

Much like their previous trips to Mexico, Kelvin McKay and Kevin Hogg made a lengthy list of things to pack for their recent getaway. Yet, despite cramming in everything they could think of to help make it a trip to remember, they made a crucial omission:

"We should've brought goalie sticks," said McKay, laughing.

Following in their long and strange tradition of carrying a Canadian flag affixed to a hockey stick everywhere they travel, the two Calgarians wanted to do something uniquely Canadian to make a difference this year.

Something for the less fortunate.

So on top of the of T-shirts, shorts, swimwear and sandals, they brought with them two road hockey nets, a dozen hockey sticks, 30 tennis balls, countless rolls of hockey tape and a plan.

Following an investigation into the heartbreaking stories of the 160 children ages 1 to 17 at Las Casita Orphanage in Cancun, they made arrangements to introduce Hockey Day in Mexico to a group so desperately in need of a diversion.

"I got to thinking that one thing I really liked to do as a kid was play street hockey and that it had probably never been done before over there," said McKay.

"We decided to change that."

What followed was a hockey game that meant more to the two hockey fans than anything their beloved Calgary Flames or Team Canada have ever been involved in.

Hogg said he couldn't contain his excitement.

"It ran goosebumps up my arms," said Hogg, 35, a field operations team leader for Canadian Natural Resources.

"When we walked in, they were right on top of us, asking questions and grabbing the sticks.

"We looked at these kids and realized this plan was really doing something great.

"They felt safe and felt allowed to let loose and be kids, which they haven't had a chance to do much of."

Located 45 minutes outside of the hotel zone in a desolate compound across from a burnt- out building, the game was staged in the midst of the high- security orphanage designed to prevent rampant abductions and further abuse.

McKay empathized with these children.

"We understood where all these kids had come from," said McKay, a manager at Longview Systems.

"I was totally taken aback by how much they seemed to enjoy the game. There were lots and lots of smiles. I was close to tears a few times."

After giving a brief explanation on how the game was played, the first anxious group of kids, ages four to six, grabbed the lengthy sticks and started whacking away immediately, eliciting laughs and giggles the two Canucks will never forget.

"It was 'swarm and group,' like a peewee Division 5 game," chuckled McKay, who snapped dozens of photos.

"One boy's name was Jose -- he was the captain of the orphanage's soccer team -- and he totally got into it. He scored a couple goals, too. There's some talent there."

Hogg's favourite memories are equally vivid.

"It was hilarious watching the little kids with sticks twice as tall as them," he said.

"One little girl in net got swacked on the hand about five times and still kept smiling away."

After all, it was a much different kind of abuse than she'd been subjected to all her life.

Despite a language barrier bridged only by a lone interpreter from Texas, a second game involving 10- to 14-year-olds went off without conflict, followed by a game between teachers and facilitators.

When it was all said and done, the scene involved close to 100 tiny spectators who joined in mobbing the visitors with thanks.

"They were so appreciative of the equipment -- they hugged us and thanked us," said Hogg, who figures the equipment from Canadian Tire set them back a meagre $400.

"It was time and money well spent. It made a difference in those kids' lives. We'd do it again."

Word of their recent endeavour spread quickly at CNR, prompting CEO Al Markin, also a Flames owner, to ask them to speak at a quarterly staff meeting of 1,000.

"We were kind of reluctant to tell the story or show pictures but one of the executive assistants said it might inspire others to do great things -- to share," said Hogg.

The two declined to speak but were recognized by Markin, a generous community man who had obvious praise for their efforts.

Said McKay: "He joked that we were down there scouting for the Flames.

"We did it for the kids, not for the glory."

Whatever the reason, they did it.

And to dozens of little orphans who now enjoy the greatest game in the world, that's all that matters.


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