Rob Dearing selected by Northern Ontario Hockey Association for prestigious award

Rob Dearing

GORE BAY – Rob Dearing of Gore Bay, who has been involved in Manitoulin Island minor hockey for over 20 years, has been selected as the recipient of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA) Ken Neeb Memorial Award.

“This special achievement award is presented to individuals each year, other than athletes, who have made an outstanding contribution to minor hockey in Northern Ontario,” stated Nick Lane, president of the Western Manitoulin Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association (WMMHA). “This award has not been awarded to anyone from Manitoulin Island since 2003 when it was awarded to Randy Thibault.”

“I received word on Friday, April 2 that Rob had been named the recipient of the award,” said Mr. Lane. “This award is given to one person every spring and to have one of our own selected from all of Northern Ontario, we couldn’t be happier. We don’t volunteer expecting to receive awards so for Rob to be recognized for his time and efforts over the years is fantastic.”
Mr. Lane pointed out “Rob was nominated for the award by the (WMMHA) executive (Nick Lane, Kara Hawke, Deanna Hardy, Chantel Watts). Special thanks to Jackie White and Sue White of Manitoulin Minor Hockey for their support.” 

Gail Payette, second vice-president of the NOHA, told the Recorder, “the WMMHA nominated Rob for this award. Rob was selected from a number of good candidates for the award.”
“It’s pretty amazing and nice that someone in our area was chosen,” said Ms. Payette. “The NOHA presents four awards each year, and this is a great honour for Rob, recognizing all his contributions over the years.”

“We usually present the awards at our annual general meeting, and it is a surprise to the award winners,” continued Ms. Payette. “With COVID we won’t be able to do this. I notified Rob that he had won the award, and we will be presenting it to him at a later date.”

“I’ve known Rob for a long time,” said Greg Lockeyer, “and have seen the commitment he has for the community and the kids in minor hockey. He has worked very hard for a lot of years.” 

Jackie White, secretary of Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association (MMHA) said Mr. Dearing, “definitely deserves this award. I got to know him and we worked together while he was the president. We had to work through some challenging times, and even when issues came up he never lost his cool at a meeting or was never disrespectful to anyone. He was great to work with on the executive and always made sure everyone had input on any decisions being made. He has always done what was best for minor hockey on the Island. He is very dedicated and has a really big heart.” 

The current president of the MMHA, Mike Zegil said, “Rob has dedicated years of his expertise, free time and life to (MMHA). I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award. He’s put in so much time and effort to provide kids on Manitoulin a great hockey experience as coach, executive of the MMHA and WMMHA. He’s given a lot to the Island.”

Mr. Dearing told the Recorder, “I was surprised (to be informed he had won the award). Randy Thibault received this award and he was my mentor and a good friend.” 

“It’s a pretty neat award,” said Mr. Dearing. “But without people like Jackie White, Terri-Lynn Leighton and the kids involved in hockey, I wouldn’t have hung in there as long as I did. They made my life a lot easier.” 

“And it is because of people like Diane Newlands, Tom Lockeyer, my wife Shauna, Bob and Maureen Dumond and many others, working two nights a week during the summer putting in new dressing rooms at the (Gore Bay) arena, and other projects that we have been able to provide a good hockey experience for the kids in our communities,” said Mr. Dearing. 

“I feel very humbled to receive an award that Randy received,” said Mr. Dearing. “No one could ever fill his shoes.”

“Rob Dearing has been involved with Manitoulin Island minor hockey for over 20 years. As a dedicated fan before becoming an officially registered NOHA volunteer in 2007, Rob has volunteered as a coach, assistant coach and/or trainer with various divisions and Island associations for the past 13 years. Rob has three sons with the oldest starting hockey in 2003 and the youngest finishing U18 in 2020,” said a nomination letter Mr. Lane wrote on behalf of WMMHA.

Rob served as president for WMMHA from 2016-2020 and as president for MMHA from 2018-2020. Before becoming president for WMMHA, Rob was the local community representative, attending MMHA meetings as the association representative.

Rob has been the lead organizer for the Porter-Clark-Purvis Men’s Sportsman’s tournament from 2015-2020. Porter-Clark-Purvis is the primary fundraiser for WMMHA and draws participation from all over the province. WMMHA also fundraises by operating a 24/7 bottle return. The bottles are dropped off into a big shipping container open to the public. This container can get very messy. Week after week for the past several years, Rob has cleaned, sorted and returned the bottles on behalf of the association. When a company donated used hockey equipment to WMMHA, Rob called all the other Island associations reaching out to people in need that could benefit.”

“Rob is the first to volunteer to help with arena maintenance and has donated his time and equipment on numerous occasions to make sure jobs get done so the kids have a safe environment to play. He was the lead fabricator in retrofitting our ice dividers to fit our rink width in 2019 as they were oversized for our local arena. For the past several years, at the end of each season, Rob uses his own time and equipment to assist the arena staff to remove the ice. Rob was also a contributing member for a non-profit group called ‘Friends of the Arena,’ who fundraised and built brand new dressing rooms for our local arena in 2010.”

“As president at the MMHA level, members and discussion can get heated and emotions run high from time to time: not once did Rob act in an unprofessional manner or allow things to get out of control. All matters were dealt with by always keeping the interests of MMHA at the forefront,” the letter reads. 

“Even during extremely stressful allegations when NOHA was asked to stoep in, Rob continued to show respect and kindness to all parties. It was Rob who picked up the phone and called the members of MMHA to ensure everyone was coping. He acts the same way when he coaches. One perfect example is a game in U18 against M’Chigeeng, a particularly exciting game with points being kept for playoffs and an opposing player scored as Rob called it an ‘incredible goal’ against his team. Rob congratulated the player from the other team on the nice goal. Rob is a true sportsman of the game and encourages players on both teams. This is just one example of the many unseen things that Rob does for hockey on Manitoulin.”

“Perhaps one generous act that very few know of is when a regular group of hunters came up to the West End of Manitoulin this past year; they always made a sizable donation to WMMHA through Rob. This year Rob gave the funds to MMHA out of respect for the fallen police officer Marc Hovingh who coached the Manitowaning Wolvers for years. Manitowaning Minor Hockey has purchased a jersey to hang in their arena with Hovingh 8340 (his badge number) on the back and will have a ceremony, and use the remaining funds. It’s this quiet helpfulness and kindness that goes unseen but marks the character of Rob.”

“This nomination could go on and on with Rob’s quiet acts of ensuring all Island players get the best opportunity in hockey that they can. Even though Rob officially retired from minor hockey coaching and administration in 2020, he continues to offer guidance and words of wisdom to players, coaches and new executive members.”

“The Ken Neeb Memorial Award has not been awarded to anyone from Manitoulin since 2003 when it was awarded to Randy Thibault. Randy was a dear friend and mentor to Rob. Randy has been deeply missed since his passing in 2019 and Rob has carried on Randy’s values and traditions. From being a fan, to being a coach, to being an executive member: Rob has done it all. Our hockey community has benefitted greatly from his volunteer spirit.”