Little is more quintessentially Canadian than street hockey. So it may seem odd a street basketball tournament provided the spark that led to the creation of the world’s largest annual street hockey festival.
When Scott Hill, MBA’02, witnessed the popularity of a 3-on-3 street basketball tournament held in London’s downtown core, he thought, “Why isn’t there something similar for street hockey?”
Fresh from completing his MBA and armed with a background in hockey – he worked for the Edmonton Oilers while completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta – Hill set out to create a festival unlike anything in the world. “It was a bit of a labour of love. And once I started, I could never get away from it,” said the founder and director of Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On!.
Hill started planning in June 2002. By that September, he was in the NHL offices in New York pitching them his idea. “Of course they said ‘no,’ but that fueled my desire to prove I could do it,” he explained.
Undeterred, Hill scraped just enough money together to run a single pilot event in Nova Scotia.
“I drove out to Halifax and I slept in my truck for 10 days. I was handing out flyers on the street corners trying to encourage people to sign up for my road hockey tournament. That first event went very, very well. I took pictures and testimonials back to the NHL and was able to gain their support.”
Now a highly anticipated annual festival, with events from coast to coast, Play On! taps into a distinctly Canadian love affair with hockey. To date, Hill has overseen more than 150 tournaments with an estimated 2.5 million participants at some level.
Each Play On! event involves closing down up to 1.6 km of city streets, ideally downtown, in order to operate 4-on-4 street hockey games on up to 60 separate rinks. Music, games, vendors and thousands of spectators mingle with the friendly, sometimes intense, competition to create a real festival atmosphere. The two-day event is open to all ages, genders and skill levels and attracts teams from all over the world. Teams play a ‘regular season’ on Saturday to qualify for the ‘playoffs’ on Sunday. Bragging rights and assorted prizes are awarded to the winners in each division.
The festival funnels some proceeds back to selected local charities (often those who provide volunteer support for the event). This year’s recipient is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada.
The 2017 Play On! season got underway in early May with events scheduled in 12 cities across the country. London played host the weekend of May 20. Although hampered by persistent a spring rain on its final day, the tournament was “a rousing success.” The celebrity game featured former NHLer Brandon Prust, members of the London Knights hockey team and London Mayor Matt Brown.
Raised in Kingsville, Ont., Hill heard about Western’s business program through a friend who advised him Ivey was the only program in Canada that could complete with the top schools in the world.
“The first time I applied, the school turned me down. And that just made me want it even more. I applied a second time and I was pretty relentless. I harassed the admissions people as much as a person could do within reason. That day I got the admissions letter was probably one of the happiest days of my life,” he said.
Hill enjoyed an incredibly positive experience in the MBA program.
“Not only was I extremely impressed and grateful to be mentored by a number of outstanding professors, but the relationships, the friendships, the network I was fortunate enough to acquire in that process, is really what I value the most,” he said.
Hill remains connected to the school. He taught an entrepreneurship course this year, an HBA2 elective called Startups: Tricky Issues, Hustle and Grit. There were 70 students and a wait-list of a few dozen more.
Hill has long been an advocate for the benefit of sport and its power to unite communities. In fact, his love of sport was an integral component of his Western experience.
“I got involved in intramurals. I played a lot of hockey, ball hockey, water polo, you name it,” said the former President of the Ivey Hockey Club and founder of the Ivey Cup, the world’s largest ice hockey tournament for business students. “I’m a huge proponent of those programs – wholesome recreational activity. Well obviously, I’ve dedicated my whole life to it.”