2020 comm toques liam en

Warming hearts and heads

A simple idea – toques from old hockey socks – became a labour of love for three friends, and a way for the hockey community to give back

Madison Koekkoek
December 21, 2020

The hockey community is known for its propensity to rise to the occasion, to pull up its proverbial socks and do what needs to be done. From players, to parents, to volunteers, to fans … the notion of giving back and getting involved is engrained in the game.

“It’s super important for us [to be involved] because we try to instill good morals for our son, Liam,” says hockey dad Justen McGillis of Angus, Ont. “To get him to understand at an early age that helping others and doing nice things and getting out there and being active in the community is a good thing,”

Now, Justen and Liam are not just pulling up their socks but leveraging the hockey community to collect socks in the name of giving back to the homeless.

Liam, 6, alongside his friend Fynn, 7, led an initiative in November to collect as many pairs of socks as they could. They procured a local sports shop to collect at and were able to solicit donations. They lost count, but guess they collected between 750 and 1,000 socks, enough for six very full garbage bags to donate to Toques from the Heart.

The notion of warming hearts and heads was started by Toques from the Heart founders, Matthew Milne, Casey Rogan and Matt Carter, three McMaster University students who make toques from old hockey socks. For each one purchased, one is given to someone experiencing homelessness.

On the same day Liam and Fynn collected their donated socks in late November, they took to the streets in Hamilton to distribute 170 of the hockey-sock toques to the homeless. Justen McGillis was proud of the look in Liam’s eyes when he handed a toque to someone in need, understanding the impact of his involvement. “Our hopes were that in the future he can look back and realize the impact of what he’s doing. I’m not sure he fully grasps it right now.”

McGillis first connected with Toques from the Heart on Instagram and was instantly attracted to what it stood for and how he and his young son could get involved.

The ever-Canadian idea of a toque made from a hockey sock came about as one may expect. “I was just messing around after practice one day and I put a sock on my head. My mom, who is an avid sewer, said ‘Oh, I’ll turn that into a toque for you.’ I wore it around, wore it to school and that idea stuck with me,” says Milne.

He talked about wracking his brain for a greater purpose for the homemade headwear. So he brought it up to Rogan. “We talked about [doing] something to help gain experience and also help people in the same process,” Rogan says.

Community support and sustainability are driving the operation for the trio. “[Socks] sit in your basement until eventually your parents throw them in the trash, and we’ve been able to take those and not only repurpose them into something new, but then support someone in need,” says Carter, “so the community is our biggest factor, and continuing to buy toques and donate socks and basically get the word out is how we’re going to be able to help as many people as possible.”

In order to get the word out, the group has leaned into influencer campaigns with a grassroots approach, sending promotional toques to Instagram accounts of minor hockey players shooting pucks in their basement or their backyard.

Parents jumping on board as a huge driver of the initiative didn’t come as a surprise to Rogan. He says that growing up, he “saw the community aspect of it, going out to practices in the morning, all the parents being connected like my dad; he was a coach on a team, so he was very involved.”

McGillis knows there’s no other driver, no other community, that has the same impact as hockey. “It’s got that family atmosphere right, my son’s six, going on seven, and I was the head coach for his Timbits team, so what I get from hockey from day one is just the family, friends – we actually have really good friends that we kept in contact with from the original team. It’s just the family atmosphere and how everybody rallies together when someone’s in need. For us, it’s just has a really warm, family feeling to it, which is what draws us to hockey.”

The McGillises have also since recruited two-time Olympic gold medallist Haley Irwin to get on board with the cause. Liam sold Irwin a couple toques after they shared the ice one day.

Irwin knows that when minor hockey players get involved in their community, the impact they can have is significant not only on themselves as they grow, but on the causes they collectively stand behind.

“They have ability to unite their community by bringing people together to give back, raise awareness, spread joy, and be leaders,” she says. “The impact is positive and can last for years to come!”

Carter played hockey since before he could walk, he says, but developing the toques has “reintroduced the entire hockey community to me again but in a different light now; I’m working with the kids that are between the ages of eight and 15 where I used to play.”

Milne echoes those sentiments: “Hockey is honestly my favourite sport, such a positive community-building experience and just so much fun to play.”

Next steps for Toques from the Heart is expanding Canada-wide.

As for the McGillises? “We’re going to continue collecting socks over the year for next season, our hopes is to every year give them a hand prior to Christmas with donations and selling toques,” Justen says. “Getting the word out to help people realize what it is because it’s truly a great cause.”

Tip of the toque to you, Liam. Using these unique times away from the rink to rally around the greater good of the community. Leadership, selflessness, and empathy are the makings of a great teammate.

For more information on Toques from the Heart, visit .

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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