Some atom hockey players in St. Albert had the chance to dine with a defenceman this week.
Fresh off the Hockey Canada men’s orientation camp for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty made his way to St. Albert on Wednesday evening to have a team meal with the atom St. Albert Black Hawks at the McDonald’s at 369 St. Albert Tr. before heading over to Servus Credit Union Place for a game of ball hockey.
Black Hawks coach Nathan Giesbrecht said it’s an exciting opportunity for both him and the players.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” he said Tuesday. “They haven’t stopped talking about it for weeks now.”
Doughty is an ambassador for the AtoMc Hockey Program sponsored by McDonald’s, which sponsors house league atom teams across Canada by providing jerseys, toques, coaching resources and restaurant coupons.
“It means a lot. It’s a great program that McDonald’s puts on,” Doughty said. “The AtoMc hockey program, it’s their third year they’re going into, and it helps over 45,000 kids across Canada. It’s so important for those kids, and it’s really important for me to be part of as well.”
Each year, the program also gives participating teams a chance to win a year-end celebration like this one with Doughty.
“It was surreal. I wasn’t expecting much to begin with, but as we started to hear more and more details, it was quite exciting,” Giesbrecht said.
Doughty still remembers his days in atom hockey fondly.
“I played with a lot of guys from [the age of] seven to 15, all the way on up, and we’re still buddies today,” said the London, Ont., native, who played junior hockey with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League and was the second overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft. “It just shows how much fun you can have playing hockey, or whatever it is, with your teammates.”
Rob Chiasson owns the four St. Albert McDonald’s locations with his wife, Karen, and said it’s an honour to have a player like Doughty in their store.
“We’re very lucky, and I know we’re very excited about it,” Chiasson said.
He is also extremely proud that McDonald’s is so heavily involved in minor hockey.
“We’re long-time McDonald’s people, and part of our foundation is the belief we have to give back to our community,” Chiasson said.
Other AtoMc ambassadors include Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-André Fleury and national women’s team forward Tessa Bonhomme.
Giesbrecht hopes his players come away from the experience with even more passion and drive for hockey.
“What I want is for them to learn to love the game and continue to want to play it for many years, whether you’re the best player in the country or not,” he said.
For Doughty, he hopes the kids had fun and learned a few things from his visit, especially about teamwork.
“The main focus of this program is teamwork, but having fun at the same time,” he said. “I’ve taken away a lot of things throughout my career from my teammates, and from being part of a team. Teamwork is the most important thing, and that’s what I want to teach them.”
— GLENN COOK, St. Albert Leader