Much like Boxing Day and the World Juniors, sports – in particular, hockey – and the Tate family go hand in hand.
“I tell everyone I know that I was basically born into hockey,” says Shelby Tate. “As a family we’ve always done stuff hockey – I’m pretty sure almost every day we talk about hockey one way or another, whether it’s Team Canada or the NHL or just ourselves playing hockey. It’s just a family thing.”
This year that means volunteering as a family at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto.
The Tates – mom Nancy, who’s signed up for 50/50; dad Ted, security; daughter Shelby, ceremonies; and son Mathew, fan experience – will be spending a lot of time together both at the Air Canada Centre, and on the way to the Air Canada Centre.
The family lives in Uxbridge, an hour northeast of downtown Toronto, and will commute – together – to and from their shifts via bus. So when Nancy and Ted have shifts beginning in the early afternoon, and Shelby and Mathew don’t start theirs until later in the day, the kids will be good and early.
That just means more time in the volunteer lounge, more time to make new friends and more time for the siblings to revive a friendly rivalry.
“There’s air hockey there,” says Shelby, “so we can battle it out there. He’s five years younger than me, but we’ve always played mini-sticks and outdoor hockey. We’ve a very competitive family.”
It isn’t competition, though, that has all four of them volunteering their time – collectively, they’ve offered up 122 hours to help Toronto host the 2017 World Juniors – but rather one member’s wish that the others be able to experience what she did two years ago.
In 2015 Shelby sold programs in the gallery outside the ACC. She made new friends, got to experience an event she grew up watching firsthand and even took part in an on-ice ceremony. She and a fellow “Galleria Girl” handed out the Player of the Game awards for the Sweden-Switzerland game during the preliminary round.
“The minute Shelby completed her experience in the last World Juniors she said, ‘I’m going to get you guys to volunteer with me the next time it comes to Toronto,’” says Nancy. “We never said no. Her enthusiasm brought us all along.”
“I thought it would be cool to experience it together as a family,” says Shelby. “I’ve been away. I pop in now and then, but the last two Christmases – between going to Finland and volunteering almost every day two years, ago – I’ve been away.”
Shelby so enjoyed her experience in 2015 – she volunteered almost every day – she wanted to do it again a year later. In Helsinki.
She and two of the friends – twin sisters – she made in 2015 applied to volunteer last year in Finland. Despite only one of the sisters being accepted, all three made the cross-Atlantic trek. The two who weren’t working went to the games instead.
Meanwhile back home the rest of the family carried on the tradition of being up at the crack of puck drop on Boxing Day.
Part of the appeal of the event for Nancy – and another reason why she volunteered this year – is a connection to the Canadian players and an understanding of what all of the competitors had put in to get to this point.
Most of the six siblings in Nancy and Ted’s extended blended family played at least AA and AAA hockey growing up.
“We’ve seen those kids struggle. We know how much work and energy and time they’ve put into the game. We’re just proud to see them playing their hearts out and fighting for their country. They put everything into it and you can see that.”
Any small part this hockey family could play in helping other players compete and succeed at the highest level, they wanted to do.
“It’s just knowing that we can give back to the game of hockey somehow,” says Nancy. “We’ve been involved for so many years, but it’s just a different level.”
It’s a sport that’s always connected the family. Nancy grew up playing road hockey with her brothers and their friends, who stuck her in net. Ted and Mathew both played ice hockey for years. Shelby, like her mom, is a goaltender, and used to get on the ice to help Mathew’s team.
“We would always be outside playing dressed completely up,’ says Shelby about the family’s road hockey games. “It was mini-sticks inside. We’ve all played a higher level of hockey, so there’s always a Christmas thing and all our family would get to play hockey against each other.”
“We would do scrimmages,” says Nancy. “I’ve been in net a couple of times so they love trying to score on their mother.”
This week at the World Juniors, at least, everyone will be shooting at the same goal: sharing hockey – and making more memories – as a family.