In a well publicized poll conducted in 2002 by The Globe and Mail, the people of Canada indicated that the most important moment in Canadian history was a hockey game. Paul Henderson's goal for Team Canada against the Russians in the 1972 Summit Series was that historic moment. Some say the goal brought the nation together for the very first time.
Canada was unified again in 2002, 2010, and 2014 with great Olympic championship victories in both men's and women's competitions. Many Canadians can remember exactly where they were for each of those celebrations.
It is true, hockey is Canada's game.
Yet Canada and its sport preferences are changing. So are rates of activity. Recognizing this, in 2003, the concept for an accessible national hockey event was created. The idea was still to unify the nation through this incredible game - but through a form of it that was loved and available to all Canadians. New or not new. Ice hockey player or not. A form of the game that combined the best aspects of Canada's three most popular team sports: soccer, hockey, and basketball. Played on foot in high profile event locations, it was a street hockey event, which had the potential to capture the essence of our nation through the most inclusive form of the game.
The name selected for the event seemed appropriate: Play On!
The first Play On! event was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia by organizers based in Ontario. Even they were surprised with its success, given that it was larger than any ice hockey tournament ever previously held in that Province. Following that event, hundreds of unsolicited testimonials were received. Youth who had played in the event called it "better than Christmas" and adults wrote to share that it was "the best weekend of our lives." The following year, the program was expanded into 4 more cities, including London, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver.
Since that time the story and influence of the program has grown annually, with each season between 2007 and 2014 being substantially larger than the year previous. In 2007, Play On! received a multi-year sponsorship commitment from the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. The partnership with the CBC provided many new opportunities for Play On! to increase in national awareness and influence.
By 2014, and now operating in twenty-one cities and culminating with a national championship (The Redwood Cup), it set a Guinness record as the largest hockey tournament in the world and as the largest participatory sports festival in Canada of any kind. More than 6000 teams, over 42,000 players, and an estimated 336,000 Canadians participated in the program that season, representing the 11th straight season of a double digit % participation increase relative to the year previous.
In 2015, when the NHL broadcast landscape in Canada changed from CBC to Sportsnet, and as it had become so large, the program was simplified and restructured. However, the program is now poised to begin growing again as part of Canada's 150th birthday celebration in 2017, and has a future as bright as that of our nation.
If your municipality would like to host a Play On! celebration, or if your organization would like to become a sponsor of the event, please contact us immediately, and let's work together to shape the future of Canada's most loved community sports festival: Play On!
Scott Hill, Founder & National Director
Play On! was founded by Scott Hill. He holds a BSc from the University of Alberta and an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University. While at Western, he was President of the Ivey Hockey Club, and also founded the Ivey Cup, the world's largest hockey tournament for business students.
He has been a regular guest speaker at the school since 2010 and will begin teaching an elective on Startups in the Faculty of Entrepreneurship at Ivey in January 2017.
Scott also previously worked in Deloitte's Strategy & Operations consulting practice. He is most passionate about sports, community, business, and family. He and his wife Cassandra reside near London, Ontario and are the parents of seven children.