Kevin Hodgson of HEROS hockey program one of three finalists for Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award

Kevin Hodgson has always believed that every kid should have the opportunity to play hockey. That's why he fit in so well when he joined the Heros program as a volunteer in 2006.  In 2009, he was hired as the executive director.

HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society) empowers at-risk youth.  Its compannion program SuperHEROS provides boys and girls living with physical and cognitive challenges with a safe and inclusive environment.

Over the years, Hodgson says the program has grown so much and it's amazing to see kids playing hockey for the first time and thriving if they've been in the program for a while.

"Now we're up to 24 programs across the country that are specifically targeting kids with financial and social barriers.  Then a few years ago we added SuperHEROS.  We discovered there were kids living with physical and cognitive challenges that had nowhere to play in Western Canada," Hodgson said.

"And (that's the moment where) you have that decision point:  Do you do something about it or do we wait for somebody else?"

GIVING ALL KIDS A CHANCE

Hodgson and the HEROS hockey program decided they were going to do something about it themselves and it was the best decision they ever made.

This year seven teams will hit the ice over three provinces.  Nearly 900 kids will play this year.

Hodgson says it's amazing when someone gets a chance to lace them up.

"Give a kid a chance to do something they never thought they'd get to do and they start to believe in themselves," Hodgson told CTV.

"There's nothing more powerful than a kid who had no belief and now has belief in themselves."

UP FOR WILLIE O'REE COMMUNITY HERO AWARD

The National Hockey League has taken notice of Hodgson's hard work with the HEROS program.  Earlier this week he was announced as one of three finalists for the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award.

Hodgson says it would mean a lot to win this particular award.

"If we were fortunate enough to win this award, it's hard for me to describe what it would mean," he said,  "other than it would be a commitment that we're going to keep going and to Willie that we're going to keep doing this bigger and better and that we're onto something."

RESPECT FOR O'REE

Hodgson has had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with O'Ree and has nothing but respect for him.  O'Ree was a pioneer.  He had to go through so much to become the first black hockey player in the NHL.

It was O'Ree himself who informed Hodgson that he was a finalist and Hodgson says that's what makes being a nominee extra special.

"When my name is on a scorecard with Willie O'Ree I get honoured - never mind being attached to an award with his name on it," he said.

"I feel an intense responsibility to keep doing what we're doing and that Willie thought enough of us to be okay with us being a nominee for that award."

VOTE

This is an award that is voted on by the fans.  If you'd like to vote for Hodgson and the HEROS hockey program, go here.

Voting ends on Friday.