Spotlight on O’Ree Finalist: Saroya Tinker

The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award is given to an individual who, through hockey, has had a positive impact on their culture or society. The award honors O’Ree, the former NHL forward who became the first black player to play in the NHL on January 18, 1958 and who spent more than two decades as an ambassador for diversity in the NHL. THE winner is determined by fan vote, which will take place from April 3-16, as well as a judging panel made up of weighted votes from Willie O’Ree, the NHL and, for the award in Canada, representatives from Hyundai. New this year, there will be one winner from the United States and one from Canada. Today, a look at one of the three Canadian finalists, Saroya Tinker.

Saroya Tinker’s love for hockey is fueled by her desire to get more black girls involved in the sport.

“I don’t think I would be involved in the sport without them,” Tinker said. “I play for little black girls. I play to be a representational piece to let them know they can do it.”

The 25-year-old defenseman for the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation is doing everything she can to help them.

Tinker co-founded Black Girl Hockey Club Canada in November 2022 and serves as its Executive Director. The organization is a chapter of the Black Girl Hockey Club, a non-profit group in the United States founded by Renee Hess in 2018 to inspire and nurture passion for hockey within the black community, especially among black women , and providing access to sport through education and scholarship. programs.

[RELATED: Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award]

Tinker heard about BGHC while playing at Yale University, where she said her enthusiasm for hockey waned due to racist comments and attitudes from coaches, opponents, teammates and fans.

“Renee got online and reached out and I started volunteering on the scholarship committee,” Tinker said. “I loved reading the girls scholarship applications, how many black girls loved hockey. My first season in the National Women’s Hockey League (now PHF), I originally wanted to raise $5,000 for the Black Girl Hockey Club US Scholarship Committee and I ended up raising about $32,000 and we decided to start the Canadian chapter.”

Tinker simultaneously has her own mentorship program, “Saroya Strong”, which helps BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) girls and women on issues ranging from hockey to mental health. A program that started with four or five mentees has grown to nearly 125 across North America.

“About 70 live in the Greater Toronto Area,” Tinker said. “With this, we operate virtually, whether it’s meeting me on Zoom or going out and taking them out to dinner to discuss what they’re looking forward to in their careers or the challenges they’re facing.”

The Hockey News listed Tinker among its top 20 advocates for social change in hockey in its Money & Power issue.

“People don’t even really know all the things she did behind the scenes to raise her mentees, our fellows,” Hess said. “When we came up with the idea to start Black Girl Hockey Club Canada, Saroya wanted to have both hands on the reins because that’s what it means to her.”

Tinker has done it all while playing for Toronto this season. She had three points (one goal, two assists) in 24 regular season games for the Six, who beat the Minnesota Whitecaps 4-3 in overtime at Mullett Arena, home of the Arizona Coyotes, on Sunday to win the Isobel Cup for the first time.

She is proud to be part of a group of black women who are thriving at the elite level of hockey, including 2022 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Nurse, Buffalo Beauts forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis, MVP the NWHL in 2020-21, and Ohio State University defenseman Sophie Jaques, winner of the 2023 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as NCAA Division I Hockey’s Most Outstanding Player.

“It’s so important for girls to see that other black women are succeeding in sport and feeling welcome and having those connections and that community they can go to when they experience acts of racism,” he said. she declared. “Obviously we’re making progress in the right direction, but we’re still a long way from that fully inclusive hockey atmosphere, so it’s so important for them to have that physical representation.”

Video: Community Hero Award: Saroya Tinker

Tinker said receiving the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award would help amplify that message even further.

“With Willie being the first black player in the NHL,” she said, “it’s obviously an honor to potentially receive this award with his name on it and to represent black women in sports and show that other black women can get involved in the community and impact so many little girls.”

Photos: Lori Bolliger

Canada’s winner will receive the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai in Canada. The Canadian winner will be announced on Sportsnet at the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals and the American winner will be announced at the NHL Awards on June 26 in Nashville. Each winner will receive a prize of USD 25,000 and the remaining four finalists will receive USD 5,000, to be donated to a charity of their choice.

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