St. Louis Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly is in Kanata Thursday to take on the Ottawa Senators, and he brought some new friends with him.
O’Reilly purchased 35 tickets for the entire First Nation Elites Bantam AAA hockey team and their parents to come watch his Blues take on the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre after being made aware of a racist incident the minor hockey team endured last year in a Quebec City Tournament.
“It was upsetting,” O’Reilly told StLouisBlues.com’s Chris Pinkert. “I think both me and my mom were upset about it. That’s not what the game is about. We say ‘Hockey Is For Everyone,’ and that was just disgusting. There’s no place in the game for it.”
O’Reilly’s mother, Bonnie, first saw the word of the incident and immediately called her son to let him know about it so they might be able to take action to help.
“It was very sad. It breaks my heart that anyone would treat children in that fashion,” said Bonnie. “I thought, ‘We need to do something to let these kids know that there are lots of people out here that don’t feel that way and instead want to be supportive of them.’”
The idea the O’Reilly’s came up with was to send invitations to the team, which consists of 13-to-15-year-olds from Northern Quebec and Eastern Ontario, to a Blues game when they would be scheduled to face the nearby Senators.
“It was all my mom. She had the idea,” Ryan said. “She’s obviously such an amazing woman, a selfless person who will do anything for anyone. They’re going to come to the morning skate and I’m going to get a chance to meet them. At that age, getting to see an NHL game, it will be an exciting time.
“I just want to tell them ‘Keep enjoying and keep loving playing the game.’ Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.”
The players from the entire First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team got to participate in the morning skate before the game on Thursday night and as another gift to them, Bonnie says she’ll be bringing t-shirts and helmet stickers for them from Players Against Hate, an organization trying to raise awareness and fight racism in youth athletics.