A cause close to home, Kyle Connor faces off against Parkinson’s

With a dad who struggled with the disease and grandfather who passed away from it, Kyle Connor is raising awareness for Parkinson’s while also helping the Winnipeg Jets community.

A cause close to home, Kyle Connor faces off against Parkinson’s

Feature Photo: Getty Images

Over an NHL career that is now in its eighth season, all with the Winnipeg Jets, Kyle Connor has taken less than 70 faceoffs.

But the ceremonial faceoff he took part in earlier this month was easily one of the most meaningful moments of his hockey life.

The 27-year-old stepped up to centre ice before the start of a Jets home game against Calgary on the night of April 4 as part of the team’s Parkinson’s Awareness Game at Canada Life Centre.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it was an amazing night,” said Connor. “To see this happen and to be able to give back to Winnipeg, where I have spent my whole career, was very special.

It was a special moment for Connor, whose father, Joe, struggled with Parkinson’s prior to passing away three years ago due to a separate issue. The forward’s grandfather also lost his life to the disease when Connor was young.

“I had approached the team to see if there was any interest in doing something like this and they were on board right away. Our owner, Mark Chipman, stresses the importance of giving back.

“The night couldn’t have turned out any better. It was perfect.”

Connor was joined at centre ice by Dr. Doug Hobson, a neurologist and Assistant Professor with the University of Manitoba, as well as Tim Hague Sr., a retired nurse who lives with the disease and is the founder of the Parkinson’s wellness centre, U-Turn Parkinson’s.

Tim, who won the first edition of Amazing Race Canada, raised awareness for the disease through his journey.

Proceeds from the 50/50 raffle, which reached over $17,000, went to U-Turn Parkinson’s and the Movement Clinic both of which offer classes, resources and support to patients with the disease.

“To know that the money is going to such worthwhile causes really does mean a lot,” said Connor.

Parkinson’s afflicts over 100,000 Canadians with 30 new people being diagnosed every day, according to Parkinson’s Canada. It is a degenerative neurological disorder affecting movement, which can have significant impact on those who are diagnosed.

Although he lost his father to a non-Parkinson’s issue, those affected by it have always been in Connor’s thoughts.

Last summer, the Michigan native thought of ways to help raise funds and awareness for the disease.

“I wanted to give back. This is something that affects so many people and impacts so many lives.”

The more people he spoke with, the more he wanted to step up.

One of those discussions was with former Major League Baseball player and manager, Kirk Gibson.

The two-time World Series champion and 2011 National League Manager of the Year was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015. His charitable foundation, the Kirk Gibson Foundation for Parkinson’s, launched in 1996 and has expanded its mission to raise awareness and improve the quality of life for people battling the disease.

Gibson, through his foundation, is also raising money for a treatment centre in Michigan.

“It’s been great getting to know people like Kirk and hearing about their stories,” said Connor, who recently welcomed members of U-Turn Parkinson’s to a Jets practice followed by an exercise class that he hosted at Canada Life Centre.

“Everyone I have met has a great outlook on life. They have an approach of, ‘This isn’t going to stop me.’

“They want to impact change and they want to do things in the community.”

Connor is looking at other avenues to help the Parkinson’s community in Winnipeg, Michigan and beyond.

“This feels like it is just the beginning.

“You want to build on the momentum of the Parkinson’s Awareness Game. That’s just one reason why I am excited about what we can do in the future.”

The 2021-22 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner will have plenty of support for whatever he chooses to do.

“I am meeting so many people and it has been very inspiring to hear their stories. Whether it’s people from U-Turn in Winnipeg or back home in Michigan there is a Parkinson’s walk every year it’s been fantastic to have such great support.

“And then I have my teammates, who have reached out to ask how they can help. You need a team, and you need a community to help make this as impactful as possible.

“That’s exactly what I have. I am so grateful for that.”