NHL News: Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award Announces Finalists

By StephanieLee Elliott

Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award NHL

NHL Public Relations

May 6, 2024

Fan Vote Open at NHL.com/OReeAward; Award Supported by Esteemed NHL Partners Hyundai in Canada and Discover in the U.S.; Two Award Winners to Each Receive $25,000 Prize to Donate to Charity of Their Choice

NEW YORK (May 6, 2024) – The National Hockey League (NHL) today announced the three Canadian finalists and three U.S. finalists for the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award™. The Award is given to an individual who – through the sport of hockey – has positively impacted their community, culture, or society.


Fans are encouraged to vote for their community hero at NHL.com/OReeAward. Voting is open until May 19, 2024. For the second year there will be two Award winners, one in the U.S. and one in Canada. The Award winners will each receive a $25,000 prize, to be donated to a charity of their choice. The four remaining finalists will each receive a $5,000 prize, to be donated to a charity of their choice. Award winners will be announced in June 2024.


Following are the finalists for the 2024 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Hyundai (Canada), in alphabetical order:


Mark Burgin (Vancouver, B.C.) is the founder of Diversity Athletics Society, a nonprofit that provides mentorship and athletic development to help keep kids in sports. Burgin coaches and mentor’s young, diverse athletes to help them excel and reach their full potential. He is also a Board member for BC Hockey and is part of their first-ever working group for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion which makes recommendations to make hockey more inclusive. Click here to watch a video feature.


Mark DeMontis (Toronto, Ont.) is the founder of Canadian Blind Hockey (formerly Courage Canada) and is a gold medalist with Canada’s National Blind Hockey Team. DeMontis, who lost his vision at 17-years old, founded Canadian Blind Hockey to help build a bigger blind hockey community, and to help more kids play the sport. Today, the organization changes the lives of people who are blind or partially sighted by providing learn to play programs, development camps, as well as regional and national competitions. Click here to watch a video feature.


Allen Hierlihy (Hamilton, Ont.) is a volunteer with the Hamilton District Sledge Hockey Association which is committed to teaching sledge hockey to boys and girls of all playing abilities. The Association welcomes 30 boys and girls and has three teams of varying competitiveness, with kids as young as five years old participating. A longtime hockey player himself, Hierlihy found this community after his son became an amputee at a young age. For eight years, he has dedicated his time to help others find this welcoming community, one he feels fortunate to have found. Click here to watch a video feature.


Following are the finalists for the 2024 Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award presented by Discover (U.S.), in alphabetical order:


Jerry DeVaul (Colorado Springs, Colo.) is the president of the Colorado Sled Hockey Association. DeVaul is a U.S. Army veteran, double amputee, and competitive sled hockey player who is leading the organization’s efforts to grow the sport. Founded in 1995, the nonprofit provides a competitive environment using hockey to connect youth, veterans, and adult athletes with disabilities to foster independence and elevate social interaction. Click here to watch a video feature.


Kelsey McGuire (Philadelphia, Pa.) is the founder of Philadelphia Blind Hockey, the first and only blind hockey organization in Philadelphia. McGuire is a high school teacher who combines her knowledge of teaching visually impaired students and adapts it to helping boys and girls to learn how to skate and how to play hockey. In just its second season, Philadelphia Blind Hockey provides students aged 6- to 13-years old with free blind hockey programming. Click here to watch a video feature.


Estela Rivas-Bryant (El Segundo, Calif.) is the founder of The Empowerment Effect, a nonprofit organization for young girls in Los Angeles that focuses on ice hockey and mentorship, providing kids with free equipment, coaching, and ice time. Rivas-Bryant is a first-generation Mexican American who grew up in Southern California. After coaching youth hockey for more than 20 years, she created The Empowerment Effect which currently welcomes more than 30 girls, the majority of whom are Hispanic, aged 7- to 16-years old. Click here to watch a video feature. 


Esteemed NHL partners Hyundai and Discover are committed to hockey at all levels and join the NHL in celebrating community leaders who are making the game greater. In Canada, Hyundai returns as a presenting sponsor. New this season, Discover joins as presenting sponsor of the Award in the U.S.


The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award honors former NHL forward Willie O’Ree, who on Jan. 18, 1958, became the first Black player to compete in the League. O’Ree, who lost sight in his right eye at a young age, went on to play professional hockey for 21 years. For more than two decades he has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, traveling across North America to schools and hockey programs to share his story and experiences as well as to promote messages of inclusion, dedication, and confidence. O’Ree has used hockey as a platform to build character and teach life skills and has used his influence to foster positive values through the sport. In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.


For more about the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, including past winners, click here.



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