Cougars battle hard for charity at annual Shine On game

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Some things are just bigger than hockey. University of Regina athletics

Although the Cougars suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the rival Huskies, this is one night where there are bigger things than hockey.

Cougar men’s hockey was back in action against the rival University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday, November. 22, and although they eventually fell 3-1, the energy in the building was tremendous. This is because nearly 1,000 Regina fans came not only to cheer on the Green and Gold, but to support Regina’s own Shine On Foundation at their annual awareness game.

Friday night made for an exciting and action-packed bounce-back from the previous week’s 0-9 romping by the Golden Bears. The Huskies got on the board early with two quick goals in the first period, but the Cougar men battled back hard. Goaltender Brandon Holtby was solid in the pipes once again, keeping it close. The U of S sucked some of the life out of the Cougars with a tough shorthanded goal late in the second, but the Cougars finished on a high note. Captain Tristan Frei scored his seventh goal of the season to give the huge crowd something to celebrate. While the game admittedly didn’t go the Cougars way on Friday, for Frei, this is one where there are bigger things than hockey.

“Obviously the game didn’t go our way, but we were playing for more than the game. I think a lot of the time we forget how lucky we are to be healthy athletes and not have to worry about any medical conditions. It was just a way to give back and show appreciation for how we can use the sport to raise money for cancer awareness.”

For Frei, this year’s event was another great success.

“Every year it’s a huge turnout, the community really comes together for the game. We get a lot of minor hockey teams and kids and organizations who come by, a lot of money is raised, and there’s volunteering opportunities throughout the week to promote the game.”

Shine On was founded by Blair Ledingham in 2013. A Regina local and Cougars hockey alumnus, Ledingham was inspired to help families struggling with late stage cancer diagnoses after the battle fought by his late wife Chantelle. During their cancer experience, numerous donators contributed financially so that the Ledinghams could undertake memorable trips as a family, as well as undergo expensive out of country medical procedures. The foundation strives to help mothers with advanced cancer diagnoses both in their battle with the disease, as well as to help their families and children. For Ledingham, it is all about paying it forward.

“During her cancer battle we had many people support us to help us explore medical options outside of Canada and help us to take some trips to some memorable places for the children and ourselves. When Chantelle passed away, myself and my family made the decision to pay forward that kindness and generosity. “

Ledingham’s words echo in those of Cougars captain Frei. Paying it forward is what its all about for the Cougars Hockey team.

“Its huge for us because Blair’s wife passed away from cancer a few years ago. Whenever we get an opportunity to give back to some of our alumni its big because that alumni program does so many wonderful things for us.”

Frei also talks about the personal connections that the Shine On game is built on, the same connections that build and drive the foundation.

“It’s important for our team as well, because there’s many guys in our dressing room who’ve had someone affected by cancer in some way. Whether it’s a player, trainer, coach or family member, everybody knows somebody who’s been affected.”

Shine On has been hugely successful in its mission, helping 25 families since 2015. The foundation also does many community events, not limited to the Cougar’s Shine On game. Ledingham reiterated the importance of paying it forward in this community involvement.

“We do some partnerships on a one-off basis, but the primary background for the partnerships that happen are families that we’ve helped in the past. We do help people in a pretty big way, so the impact we’ve made in their lives often makes them want to pay it forward as well.”

While Shine On does many community events, the Cougar’s Shine On game is the foundation’s only ongoing event, one that they have been participating in since 2014.

“We were all for it as a relatively young charity at the time. The idea was to give a bunch of tickets away to my children’s school and other schools in the area and hockey teams.”

Since then, the event has only grown and for Ledingham, his past team was a perfect match for early community outreach.

“It seemed like a good fit; it was something that allowed the U of R men’s hockey team to give back to the community and it was something from our perspective that allowed greater exposure.”

“From an awareness perspective it’s been very, very good for the foundation. It’s given us more exposure to a younger group, those who are attending University.”

Ledingham also sees it as a way to give back to the Cougars organization.

“It’s helped the men’s hockey program as well, to give them greater exposure to people who maybe wouldn’t go watch those hockey games to realize what a high level of hockey it is. I view it as a win-win, it’s something I am hopeful we will be able to continue to do as we move forward.”

Win-win it is. Friday’s rendition of the Shine On game’s attendance of 1000 eager spectators is easily a season high for the struggling Cougars who usually average only a few hundred. Ledingham also touches on another important point. It is a ton of fun.

“It’s a fun event overall. It’s a fun event for us from a foundation perspective and I think its fun for the players to have that type of atmosphere.”

Alumni connections like those that the Cougars maintain with Ledingham are huge for the organization, which something Frei can attest to.

“I remember my first-year walking onto the Cougars. I didn’t even know they had an alumni organization.  Now that I’m fourth year and captain, I’ve grown a huge relationship with the alumni. We are all students and sometimes school can get busy but when the game is incorporated into our season its an easy way to give back and give a good effort.”

Shine On is not the only community programing that the Cougar men’s hockey team is involved in. They also have a three-year partnership with the Red Cross, where they do anti-bullying presentations to minor hockey teams and at schools. This year they will also be doing Christmas hampers for families in need. Frei takes pride in his team’s commitment to the community.

“We try to keep busy and give back where we see fit. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning some hockey games and going to school but we enjoy giving back when we can.”

In part from the hockey games, the Shine On Foundation has grown tremendously in its short six years. Something that Ledingham also attributes to great donor support.

“Initially, we did it as a southern Saskatchewan-based charity, because we wanted to make sure it was sustainable so that if people came to us, we would be able to help them if they met our criteria. As of last December, we expanded to province wide, so now we have helped some individuals in the Northern part of the province.”

These individuals now stretch from Regina and Saskatoon, all the way to communities in the north of the province, some of whose incredible stories can be read in full at Shinonfoundation.ca. With the foundation growing year to year, what’s next for the Shine On Foundation?

“We are now province wide, and I think as we continue to move forward, provided we continue to get community and provincial donor support, we would like to expand to be interprovincial as well.”

Ledingham reaffirms that even with new growth, the charity’s mission statement remains the same. It’s all about giving back to parents and their families.

“Our focus will continue to be on later stage cancers, where there’s obviously still hope for recovery but where it’s a tough diagnosis. We will continue to support those families who have younger children.”

If readers are interested in supporting the Shine On Foundation, or applying for support, they can do so at shineonfoundation.ca. The foundation is also happy to announce that now donations are being matched up to $100,000 by an anonymous donor.

For the Cougars, their next action will be away against the dominant Calgary Dinos. They were swept by U of C in their home opener and will look to battle back in Alberta.

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