It’s only their first season in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, but the Transcona Railer Express are already making an impact in their community.
The team is volunteering at the Transcona Food Bank leading up to Christmas, and asking fans to bring non-perishable food products to home games in December. The team is also holding a Skate with Santa and the Express event on Dec. 22 to raise money for the food bank.
"We want to get the players understanding the value of giving back," said Jerry Sodomlak, the president of the expansion team.
The team will send three different players to the food bank on each of six days in November and December. The first two days, Nov. 7 and 8, saw six Railer Express players picking up, unpacking, sorting and distributing food to families in need.
"It was definitely an eye-opener for sure," said goalie Zach Blank, an 18-year-old Transcona resident who volunteered on Nov. 8. "To see how many people in the community need the food, it’s definitely something you don’t realize is happening in any community, especially your own."
Blank, along with teammates Stephane Catellier and Raymond Claydon, and assistant coach Russ Wilgosh, spent the morning handing out perishable and non-perishable food.
"Not that the kids live in a bubble," Wilgosh said, "but they all live in well-to-do families, and this was definitely an eye-opener. We’re not only trying to create hockey players, but good citizens."
Wilgosh said the players might have been surprised to see that many of the people who rely on the food bank look just like them, but are dealing with hard times.
"Maybe they’re out of a job, or having some hard luck or have a bunch of kids they’re trying to support," Wilgosh said. "Stuff like this goes on everywhere, including Transcona."
Blank had volunteered through his school at Winnipeg Harvest in the past, but didn’t realize the issue of hunger stretched so far from the core area.
A dozen more players will be at the food bank next month, on Dec. 5, 6, 19 and 20.
It hasn’t been a stellar debut season for the Railer Express, as the team’s 0-14-1 record can attest, but Wilgosh believes the volunteer work will help bring the team closer together.
"A lot of the players didn’t know each other before the season, but now they’re hanging out at the rink, doing community service away from the rink, and becoming better teammates and better people," he said.
Blank called the experience "kind of fun," and said he’d be happy to keep visiting the food bank in the new year.
While the team’s record is certainly an eye-sore, Blank believes that seeing people in dire need of basic necessities reminds the players that hockey is only a game.
"There are more important things in life," he said.
The Railer Express will be accepting cash and food donations for the Transcona Food Bank at home games on Dec. 2, 9 and 16. The "Skate with Santa and the Express" event is scheduled for Dec. 22, from 6:15 to 8 p.m. at East End Community Centre.