The David Suzuki Foundation and the union announced plans Friday for a partnership that asks players to become more eco-friendly, both at home through their personal choices and in their professional lives through the NHLPA Carbon Neutral Challenge.
The latter initiative involves players purchasing clean-air credits to compensate for the extra carbon produced by their extensive travels - a concept known as carbon offsets. All the money they raise will help fund three clean-air projects around the world through Montreal-based not-for-profit Planetair.
Over 350 players - including everyone on the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars - have already signed up to contribute $290 annually and hundreds more are expected to join in the coming weeks. The amount is based on a clean-air credit cost of $29 per ton and research that says each NHL player contributes 10 tons of carbon emissions per season.
While the dollar-amount may be small, the world-renowned Suzuki believes the impact of having hockey players involved is immeasurable.
"Environmentalists would kill to get this type of attention," he joked as he pointed to a line of cameras. "Let's face it, an old crusty guy like me, an environmentalist, who the hell is going to listen to me? But these guys connect directly with our youth and it's all about the future."
Canadian Olympic skier Thomas Grandi, who along with wife Sara Renner, an Olympic silver medallist in cross-country skiing, hooked up with Suzuki back in December 2006.
Grandi calculated how much extra carbon he produces while traveling with the Canadian ski team and bought $535 worth of clean air credits to make up for it. He also donated half his prize winnings that season to Suzuki's foundation.
They also urged fellow winter athletes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their daily living, getting the entire Canadian ski team on board.
"There it was obvious because they know meets are being canceled now in Europe because of a lack of snow. They can see the impact," said Suzuki. "The hockey players are a natural it seems to me, but we have to talk about branching out to the other sports."
Andrew Ference, then of the Calgary Flames, started by getting seven of his Flames teammates to sign up.
"If amateur athletes can do it, than we better," he said. "It really is a small amount to contribute but it's the power that message contributes, getting the idea in these players heads about doing the right thing."
Social consciousness comes naturally to Ference, who is also an athlete ambassador for Right to Play, an international charitable organization that uses sport to improve the lives of children and communities affected by war, poverty and disease.
Gas-guzzling SUVs are a common vehicle of choice for professional athletes, hockey players included. Awareness about the issues related to global warming and of the alternatives that are out there are key in the fight.
For instance, Ference got ribbed by his Calgary teammates for driving a hybrid last season, but a handful of players ended up following his lead. Same goes for the Bruins, who had fun with him for riding a bike to the rink until captain Zdeno Chara and others joined in.
"It's introducing guys to things they might not have known about," said Ference. "In Calgary for example, it was call the power companies and switch to wind and guys were like, 'Oh, you can do that?' Six or seven guys picked up the phone and switched to wind. People in general want to do the right thing, as long as someone can show them the way, they're all for it.
"Hockey players aren't different than anybody else."
Their contributions to the carbon challenge will go towards a bio-mass outfit in India, a micro-hydro system in Indonesia and a wind-farm in Madagascar.