BRITISH COLUMBIA

Canucks' Kevin Bieksa Drops Gloves Against Hunger Crisis

08/20/2012 05:48 EDT | Updated 10/20/2012 05:12 EDT
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Brace yourselves, Canada. Vancouver Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa thinks it could happen — another year without hockey.

The team’s top-earning blue-liner isn’t so sure he’ll be lacing ‘em up this October. “No, I wouldn’t say I’m confident.” He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, but according to him, “it’s going to take something from [NHL commissioner] Gary [Bettman] and the [team] owners that’s for sure.”

“We [the players] didn’t really play the negotiation game. We came back with what we thought was a practical, realistic system [in our alternative offer to the league’s proposal that] we could implement right away, and to see them disappointed with that right away isn’t good.”

So far, the players’ creative thinking and outside-the-box attitude has made little or no difference to the deep-pocketed and powerful owners.

But Bieksa and two other Canadian NHLers are confident a difference can be made somewhere else — in West Africa.

While it’s hard for most Canadians to imagine a frigid, frozen season without the game they worship, Bieksa, along with Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators, and Ottawa Senators right-winger Chris Neil, want to turn your attention to another story making headlines in the world.

First, a couple of facts:

- There are 18.7 million people living in the Sahel region of West Africa that don’t have enough food to eat and safe water to drink.

- One million children are in need of life saving treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

Bieksa, a father of two, can’t ignore the reality that the people who call the nine countries home face each and every day. “It hurts you as a parent, it hurts you as a human being.”

“We’re fortunate in North America that we don’t have to deal with starvation and hunger,” Bieksa added, “but it’s something that no human being should have to deal with. To see so many kids and people suffering over there we have to do whatever we can to help them out.”

'Every little bit helps'

From the Atlantic to the Red Sea, drought, increasing food prices, and conflict in Northern Mali have made the threat of famine very real. That's why Bieksa is lending his face and voice to a public service announcement produced by World Vision Canada.

“I think every little bit helps,” he said. “I know people work hard for their money, but I think most people are willing to sacrifice to help.”

On Aug. 7, the Canadian government made its position clear on the matter by pledging to match any and all donations Canadians contribute to the relief effort made before Sept. 30.

“It’s unbelievable; I think it just shows why Canada is one of the best countries in the world,” said Bieksa. “It’s so far away, yet it’s such an important priority for us as Canadians to help those in need. It’s great to see the government stepping up and doing that.”

This isn’t the first charitable initiative for Bieksa. The 31-year-old Grimsby, Ont., native just returned home after spending time working with the NHL Players’ Association to help keep the memory of his beloved teammate and friend Rick Rypien alive.

The NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams fund hosted the annual Goals and Dreams Cup in Rypien’s hometown of Crowsnest Pass, Alta., in honour of Rick. The event helps provide disadvantaged kids with the equipment they need to play hockey and raise funds for the ‘Rick Ryp Foundation.’

“He would have been proud,” said Bieksa. “He loved children and he loved the game of hockey. That’s the reason we all went down there.”

Unlike the hockey season, Bieksa’s involvement with World Vision won’t start or stop based on labour negotiations. In fact, if the puck doesn’t drop on the 2012-2013 season, Bieksa, who’s never travelled to Africa, says visiting the region he’s committed to spreading awareness about is something he hopes to do.