Graham Parsons, from Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp, reunites with these two young men at a gala in New York City honouring the Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp for its partnership with the Ice Hockey in Harlem program. These men were among the first groups that attended the Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp. The partnership with Harlem began in 1991. Photo submitted

Sylvan Lake hockey camp recognized in the Big Apple

The hockey camp has helped many young hockey athletes over the years

There is a sign shaped like a Maple Leaf hanging on the wall in Graham Parsons office.

The sign, given to him by his grandchildren, says,‘Every day is a good day for hockey.’

For Parsons, a well known figure in the hockey world in Central Alberta and beyond, those words hold especially true.

There are, however, some days that are better than others.

When Parsons suited up for the Montreal Canadians many years ago that had to be a good day.

A very good day.

And when the old Sylvan Lake arena collapsed under a huge weight of snow on its roof that had to be a bad day.

A very bad day.

And, today, sitting in his office in NexSource Centre in Sylvan Lake, looking out the windows that flank the inside wall of the building at the hockey players who fill the ice below, is another good day.

But today is made even better because Parsons is recalling, with great attention to detail, his recent trip to New York City where Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp, employee Karen Van Meer and himself were honoured with the Community Partner Award for a partnership with the Ice Hockey in Harlem program.

For Parsons, that was a very good day!

Sitting in his cozy little office surrounded by hockey memorabilia, Parsons does his best to verbally express the absolute thrill of getting up close and personal with young players who had attended the camp over the years and the delight of meeting all the people who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all happen.

If someone were to ask a stranger on the street what Hockey in Harlem and Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp had in common, the answer would probably be the same.

Absolutely nothing!

But, that would be where they would be wrong.

Very wrong.

Even as Parsons talked about meeting up with the kids who had, over the years, traveled from Harlem to a little town called Sylvan Lake that none of them had ever heard of, his voice is choked with emotion.

One of those players was Eric Simmons.

“When the old rink fell down, he found me on Facebook and he messaged me on Father’s Day. It was an emotional message,” he said.

When Simmons walked into the gala in New York City and saw Parsons he pounded his chest and then he wrapped me in this fierce bear hug. And then we both burst into tears.”

During Parsons and Van Meer’s time in New York there were many such poignant moments.

When Parsons gave his speech he coined the phrase, every day is a good day for hockey and referred to well known hockey coach Badger Bob Johnson, whom he knew personally.

“I’ve never met anyone who cared about hockey like he did.”

The Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp has touched many families in a positive way since its inception. Many future NHLers honed their skills on the ice at a Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp.

Parsons was well aware of the fact that the camp made a difference in many lives.

But what he wasn’t aware of was exactly how much of a difference.

Travelling to New York brought that fact home to him in a big way.

“I honestly didn’t know the impact that the program had on the kids from Harlem. And I didn’t know there are so many passionate people involved.”

He noted the families from Harlem are comprised of a melting pot of nationalities and religions, but they all have one thing in common.

They love hockey.

“They (those kids) play with passion and a smile on their face.”

Parsons is back, fulfilling his duties as usual, at the NexSource Centre and Bentley arena. In both places, he is a familiar figure, patiently answering questions and making sure the ice schedules run like clockwork.

But, since he rubbed shoulders with the key figures behind the Ice Hockey In Harlem program and walked a mile with the young men and women who has crossed his path over the years, he feels a renewed sense of purpose about the hockey camp.

“It definitely renewed our purpose as to why we do it,” he said.

This year, as in past, two boys and two girls from Ice Hockey in Harlem will attend the Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp.

IHIH director of programs Brad Preston will hand pick these lucky individuals based on their academic standings and overall attitude.

And Graham Parsons and Sylvan Lake Hockey Camp will do the rest, just like they have always done.

Parson allows himself to smile as he looks into the future and envisions the new young players, fresh off the plane from Harlem, excited and ready to learn more about the game of hockey, how to play the sport, and more importantly, how to love it.

And he is pleased.

“Who knew the program would go this long?” he questioned.

It is true no one knew how long the partnership would keep going, but one can be quite sure of one thing.

It’s not about to end any time soon.

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