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Clark Park's hockey visionary nominated for prestigious NHL award

The Detroit News
Anthony Benavides, left, gets his jersey signed by Darren McCarty during a charity game at Clark Park in 2012.

Detroit — Anthony Benavides led the revival at Clark Park in Southwest Detroit, with hockey as the centerpiece.

And the NHL is saying thank you.

Benavides this week was named one of three finalists for the NHL's Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award. Fans can vote online until May 5.

The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 19.

Benavides, the center director at Clark Park, was instrumental in repairing the rundown outdoor rink, and he launched a free youth hockey program in the neighborhood, which is widely low-income, and made of a large black and Latino population.

Hockey is part of the equation, a big one — with about 140 youths participating in the hockey program this year, thanks to donated skates and equipment. The only cost for kids is the $46 USA Hockey fee.

The Clark Park rink also has hosted charity games, a practice for the gold medal-winning U.S. women's Olympic hockey team, as well as Red Wings practices.

But hockey isn't everything. Clark Park also hosts children who are being tutored or doing their homework. 

"Just getting the nomination is great for me, great for the organization, great for promoting hockey up here in Detroit, Michigan, in Clark Park," Benavides said. "Hockey's for everyone, but especially in inner cities to underserved youth.

"That's where I fit in, trying to level the playing field for the hockey population here in Detroit."

Anthony Benavides at a press conference in 2016.

Also up for the award is Rico Phillips of Flint's Inner-City Youth Hockey Program, and Tammi Lynch of Ellicott City, Md., who is the co-founder of Players Against Hate.

Phillips founded his program in 2010 for kids between the ages of 8 and 11.

Kids get free equipment, skating and instruction during a nine-week program.

"I'd say this is a medium-size town, Flint, Michigan, and not too many great things happen on the regular," Phillips said. "Representing something so big in my community is awesome. We try to look past the clouds covering our city."

The award is named after O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL when he debuted with the Boston Bruins in 1958. He is the NHL's Diversity Ambassador, and in 2018 was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.