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Halifax’s Dean Smith wins NHL community hero award

The National Hockey League has honoured Halifax’s Dean Smith for his work in strengthening the hockey community and championing diversity in the sport.

Smith is a lawyer, long-time hockey volunteer, and serves on Hockey Nova Scotia’s board as chair of diversity and inclusion.

In recognition of his work, the NHL has named Smith the recipient of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai.

For the first time, the 2023 NHL Awards will honour two individuals with a Willie O’Ree award – Smith was selected as the Canadian winner, while the American recipient will be announced on June 26.

The award is named after NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first Black player to compete in the national league. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Dean [Smith] gives back to Halifax, Nova Scotia in so many different ways to grow the game, and the work he has done with Hockey Nova Scotia over the years has been incredible to positively impact families,” O’Ree, 87, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Dean constantly works to create a friendly and safe space for everyone to enjoy the great sport of hockey and he truly showcases what this award is all about. Congratulations to Dean on this very well-deserved honour.”

In addition to his work with Hockey Nova Scotia, Smith is the driving force behind the Halifax-based Black Youth Ice Hockey Program which introduces 30 young Black Nova Scotians to hockey each season. Several graduates of this hockey program have advanced to elite levels of the sport. Smith also serves as secretary to the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame Society.

The lawyer also helped lead Hockey Nova Scotia’s #StrongerTogether campaign with Recreation Facilities Association of Nova Scotia by partnering with arenas across the province and was an integral part of the organizing committee that launched the Halifax Hockey Summit.

With the Willie O’Ree award, Smith will receive $25,000 USD to be donated to the charity of his choice.

O’Ree, who lost sight in one eye while playing in the minor leagues, played in the NHL for 21 years and served as the league's diversity ambassador. The hockey star has also spent more than 20 years travelling throughout North America visiting schools and youth hockey programs to share his story and promote “inclusion, dedication and confidence.” 

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page Top Stories

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