Saroya Tinker has done plenty of defending during her career, but now the Toronto Six blueliner is getting the chance to score some goals...off the ice, that is.
Over the weekend, Tinker presided over the official launch of Black Girl Hockey Club Canada at an event in Toronto that saw a number of BIPOC kids take to the ice for a leisurely skate. Even better, the event and the new charity have the support of Canadian Tire's Jumpstart program right off the hop.
"We see hockey as Canada's national sport and we want to promote the game to our BIPOC communities," Tinker said. "We want to build a safe space for them and I'm super-excited to partner with Jumpstart because we can implement so many programs due to their great access and what they have going on. Their support for BGHC has been unwavering since the very beginning and we're excited to move forward with them."
BGHC was founded by Renee Hess in the United States back in 2018 and has quickly drawn the admiration of many in the hockey community for its grassroots efforts. Tinker is the founder and executive director of BGHC Canada and Hess has been key as co-founder.
"It's been imperative," Tinker said. "With myself, I devote all my time outside of playing with the Toronto Six to BGHC and with Renee's help – and now being my business partner in this – it's been incredible. We have a blueprint, we knew what we wanted to do in Canada and we were able to implement that. It's been super-helpful having that leadership come from Renee."
Getting Jumpstart on board is also a coup, but the feeling is mutual.
"Jumpstart has always been interested in creating equitable opportunities for sport," said Marco Di Buono, president of Canadian Tire Jumpstart charities. "So when we learned through Renee and Saroya that they had intentions of opening and establishing their charity here in Canada, we asked if they needed the support to get it off the ground and root themselves properly over two-to-three years just to get firmly planted and they said yes."
Jumpstart brings a lot to the table for the fledgling group. Potential avenues for the partnership with BGHC include helping with the cost of participation, college scholarships and equipment donations (Tinker is sponsored by Sherwood Hockey). Started in 2005, the charity focuses on eliminating financial barriers to participating in sports for kids in Canada and has worked with groups such as HEROS Hockey in Calgary, Hockey 4 Youth in Toronto and the Cape Breton Blizzard in Nova Scotia.
"We do that through a lens of equity and inclusion," Di Buono said. "Focusing on marginalized youth, racialized youth and youth with disabilities in particular. And most recently, we've taken on the charge for gender equity in sport because of the disproportionate drop-off for girls and young women."
That's something Tinker can relate to. Growing up, she only had two other Black girls in her age group that played hockey and it wasn't always easy coming up the ranks. Now 24, she has already seen a big change in the sport's demographic and joked that she hands a BGHC card to someone new every time she goes to a rink.
But that representation still matters and it's a big reason Tinker puts herself out there alongside Sarah Nurse, Blake Bolden and Mikyla Grant-Mentis as pro/national team role models for the next generation. Amazingly enough, Tinker didn't even plan to play pro: Yes, she played hockey at Yale, but her original intent was to go into the medical industry after studying the history of science, medicine and public health at the Ivy League school.
"At the same time, I realized how important it is to be a representation for the girls and play for them," she said. "They're my purpose for playing – that's the only reason I'm still playing professionally, it's not about me anymore."