Former NHL players offer MCHS students some lessons on life

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Former NHL players Robb Brown (left) and Jason Strudwick (right) speak to Morinville Community High School students Feb. 19 on life’s obstacles and the need to persevere. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Former NHL players Robb Brown and Jason Strudwick were in the halls of Morinville Community High School (MCHS) Tuesday afternoon to offer a bit of mentorship to a group of about 100 students. The hockey players were brought to town by the 4Life Foundation, a Toronto-based organization devoted to building bridges within local communities by recognizing individualism, affirming diversity, building and enhancing relationships, and promoting excellence, compassion and respect.

The two 90-minute sessions were the first time the 4Life Foundation program has been brought to a school outside Toronto. Student participants were selected by a lottery to create two groups of 50 students, each of whom heard what the former NHL players had to say and then took to the gym to play some floor hockey with the pros.

Jason Strudwick played 614 games from 1995 to 2011, hitting the ice for the New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and the Edmonton Oilers. Robb Brown played 543 games during his career. Between 1987 and 2000 Brown played with the Pittsburg Penguins, Hartford Whalers, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota North Stars and the Los Angeles Kings. He currently does game commentary for the Oilers on 630CHED.

But the two former NHL stars’ commentary Tuesday was all about overcoming adversity, staying the course, and encouraging the students to try their hand at things others may tell them they can’t do.

“Everyone goes through obstacles – it’s how you deal with them,” Strudwick told students, adding both he and Brown had gone through many obstacles in their hockey careers. “There’s two way’s of dealing with them. Either you give up, which is easy, or you don’t.”

Strudwick went on to confide in students his own story, one in which he was told by a general manager that he was not good enough to play professional hockey. “Did I give up? That would have been easy,” he said. “Someone in a position of power told me what I could or couldn’t do.” But the former NHL player stayed the course, improved his game, and went on to play 12 successful years in the league. “Don’t give up,” Strudwick said. “Believe in yourself and do what you want to do.”

Robb Brown’s message to students was to try things they may not think they are good at. “I learned from playing professional sports, the most respected athlete is someone who steps out of the box and does something they’re not comfortable doing,” he said. “I bet you every one of you guys sings in the shower. I guarantee you all can’t sing. Some of you guys aren’t great singers but you still want to try singing.” The athlete encouraged students to apply the same thought process to other activities in their lives.

Staff and students pleased

MCHS Principal Todd Eistetter said the school was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear the players speak.

The principal said he was pleased with the message the two hockey players brought to his students, one that fit well with what the school has already been teaching. “Everything they are looking at is perseverance, trying to do your best,” Eistetter said, adding the idea of trying things outside one’s comfort box is important. “We don’t say about a student in math or science that they are not good at it. We’re saying, give it a shot. You will not know until you try. In this case, that’s what they’re working on. They’re looking at life-long learning; looking at perseverance, mentoring. It’s everything that we’re working on here at the school with our HOWLS program. It fits in very nicely.”

One MCHS student who enjoyed the experience is Tim Evans. For Evans, playing against a former NHL pro was a check off his bucket list; taking the puck away from Strudwick was icing on the cake.

“It was a fantastic event, and taught us to give’r and don’t give up,” Evans said. “Through skills training, we learned to not give up on the skill, but that everything takes time, and practice certainly helps you learn.”

Evans said the speech from the two NHL stars was relatable, particularly in a hockey town like Morinville. “It was inspiring to hear his [Strudwick’s] story, how he didn’t give up his dreams because some GM said he can’t play hockey, but he persevered and led a fantastic career playing for the Oilers,” Evans recalled. “I would definitely recommend this 4Life program to every school, as it teaches a lesson in a fun way, and you’ll definitely be telling this one to your grand kids someday.”

The message had an impact for the student. “They taught us, along with the “don’t give up” message, to find something you’re good at – and use that as your advantage,” he said. “That’s your skill. Now go out there and show off. Everyone is good at something. It’s up to us to figure it out and follow that passion and that skill.”

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