Growing up in Winnipeg, Ryan Reaves knew two sports as a young athlete: hockey and football.
He played both before setting his sights on ice.
His father, Willard, played in both the Canadian and National Football Leagues and was very involved with his children’s athletic activities.
In turn, Ryan Reaves watched and listened closely to how his father conducted himself both on and off the field.
Willard Reaves was extremely popular in Winnipeg and couldn’t walk down the street without being asked for a picture or an autograph.
“Just the way he interacted with everybody, he always had time to stop and talk and take a picture and shoot the shit a little bit with anybody that ever wanted to,” Reaves said during a 1-on-1 conversation in late 2020. “He’s always very respectful toward his fans and toward the community that he lived in. That was one thing that I really took from him.”
And that’s why the Vegas Golden Knights tough guy has a soft spot when it comes to community outreach and has always made time for children during his career.
“Throughout my career, I’ve kind of always gone for those off-ice events, where there are kids involved,” Reaves told me during an event at Doolittle Community Center in Historic West Las Vegas last February. “When I was younger living in Winnipeg I used to try to go and get some autographs from the Jets guys and just having one of those guys stop and talk to me for a minute was something that I always remembered.
“I had tried to bring that with me throughout my career, always taking time to hang out with the kids.”
Whether that meant talking to them, letting them see a familiar face from the game, letting them learn through professionals they’re aspiring to be one day, or, simply allowing a younger generation to have a good time with NHLers, Reaves said it’s important for not only himself but all professional athletes to lend their time whenever possible.
“It’s good to come and spread the hockey game and make sure they can learn it and it’s there if they enjoy it and watch it,” Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb said during the Doolittle event. “It’s just fun to come and support and make sure we’re there to support whenever we need. I like where you can interact with the kids, play sports with the kids. It doesn’t have to be hockey or whatever kind of sport it is. That’s what I really like doing, is interacting with the kids and getting their competitive juices flowing and just having fun.”
A doting father of two, Reaves understands the importance of being a role model. So whether he is chatting with a youngster for one or two minutes, or spending an hour playing ball hockey, he believes “those kids will remember that for the rest of their lives.”
That’s why Reaves was pleased to announce his partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation this past week, to build a ball hockey rink for the James Boys and Girls Club of Southern Nevada, located in Historic West Las Vegas.
The project will create a place for underserved youth to learn the game of hockey, but it will also provide a flexible activity space that can offer a safe environment for additional sports programs, Golden Knights watch parties, and community social events.
“It’s exciting,” he said Friday during a press conference in Lake Tahoe. “We’re putting it at a Boys and Girls Club in an area that’s low income, predominately not a White area. An area where there’s gonna be kids that have never been exposed to the game before, probably never picked up a hockey stick, probably never watched a game most likely. Just to be able to provide a safe spot for them to come in and learn the game and kind of test it out and see if they like it, I think it’s gonna be exciting.”
Bridgestone Americas, Inc. announced this past week it is committing $200,000 to the National Hockey League Foundation in support of diversity and inclusion initiatives that will create more access to the sport for children and youth that represent hockey’s growing reach in Las Vegas and Nashville.
“I think hockey is stereotypically a white sport and to come out to these communities where there are different ethnicities and races, I think, is important,” Reaves said during last year’s visit to Doolittle, which is located roughly 2.5 miles from the facility he’s building the ball hockey rink. “Hockey is for everyone, but it’s not always exposed to everyone. To be able to come out to places like this and expose these kids to a sport they’ve never seen is important.”