“I've been into hockey since I was four years old,” declares Joe Drago, chairman of the board at Hockey Canada. “I started out on frozen ponds and outdoor rinks. Hockey taught me more than I could have learned at any university, about business, about getting along with people in general and about motivating young people in particular. Because of hockey, I learned how to work closely with young people and showed them how to stay out of trouble by staying active and busy.”

He enjoyed his favourite game throughout his college years as a winger and defenceman at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., receiving an education that otherwise would have been unattainable.

“Hockey has been very good to me.”

Turning the Tide
A Sudbury, Ont., native, Joe has participated in hockey in some form at every level. He was involved with the Ontario Hockey League's Wolves for 17 years, serving as director of operations, coach, general manager, president and part owner. It was a challenging period of his life and he credits his faith in God for getting him through it.

“During my junior hockey days, there was a period of extreme pressure,” he recalls. “The team was losing badly, fan support was dwindling and season tickets were hard to sell. There was tremendous criticism from the media, sponsors were leaving us and we were losing money. It was depressing and made me wonder why I was even involved, as my family also felt the burden of our performance. My belief in God kept me going, and I believed things would get better. He pulled me through that challenging time.”

Things quieted down and, after a few years, Joe retired from the team. He went on to serve as president of the Ontario Hockey Federation for six years before going to Hockey Canada.

“I often run into former critics,” he smiles. “They are now complimentary and positive about my role in the game. The tide has turned.”

Community Bonding
Besides his love for hockey, Joe has a heart for a variety of community services and is a fervent supporter of The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army - Salvationist.ca - Joe Drago: For the Love of the Game "My belief in God kept me going," says Joe of his days as a hockey coach

“During the Second World War, some of my relatives needed assistance,” he says. “The Salvation Army took care of them, offering them food and clothing. That inspired me to give some of my own time to such a deserving institution.”

Joe joined The Salvation Army's advisory board in Sudbury and soon saw that there were many more people in need of help than he had originally thought.

“Serving with my wife, Sylvia, and our two daughters, Lisa and Deana, at our first Salvation Army Feast of Christmas had a powerful impact on my views,” he says. “There were people being fed whom I knew but had no knowledge that they were in need. My family and I talked extensively on our way home that night. I was convinced that being a part of The Salvation Army in our community was where we could do the most good.”

Through the years, Joe and Sylvia enjoyed helping their local Army church feed the hungry a hot dinner at Christmastime.

“It was so nice serving and then hanging out with all the volunteers afterward,” he says. “We got very close.”

Deserving Support
Sadly, Joe's wife of 52 years passed away just before Christmas 2014.

“Sylvia and I had a wonderful life together and I miss her,” he comments. “My wife used to travel with me all the time, except when I was coaching.”

He's thankful for having close family and friends through his great loss, along with his church.

“I am very strong in my faith,” he says. “My wife always insisted our family go to church.

“I can't serve on The Salvation Army's board right now because I travel too much with hockey,” he says, “but I read Faith & Friends all the time! I enjoy the touching stories and I pass them on to my daughters. When my Hockey Canada days are over, I hope to help this 'deserving institution' once again.”

(Photos: Hockey Canada Images)

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