Making Saves to Save Snow Leopards

Wildlife rangers on the front lines of snow leopard conservation stop poachers to protect these magnificent cats. 7th grader and New York City Cyclones hockey goalie Oliver Huston stops pucks to help achieve the same goal. Last season, this young netminder raised $1 for conservation projects from friends and family for every saved puck. At the end of the season, Oliver had made more than 500 saves, and raised more than $500 for snow leopards!

In many ways, the goalie is to a hockey team what a wildlife ranger is to endangered animals: the last line of defense. Both jobs are difficult, and certainly not for the faint of heart. Perhaps its fitting then that wildlife lover and hockey enthusiast Oliver Huston chose to don mask and pads and brave the shots fired by the opposing team, rather than going on the attack himself.

This past season, Oliver decided to use his passion – making saves on the ice – to help save one of his favorite animals, the snow leopard. His love for the endangered ‘Ghost of the Mountain’ goes back several years:

Oliver in action!
Oliver in action!

“When I was in 3rd grade (I’m now in 7th), we raised money through a bake sale and had to decide what charity to donate to.  We did research on different charities and because I liked wildlife I came across the Snow Leopard Trust as a charity we could support. I made a presentation to my class on why we should support the charity.  I guess it was successful because Snow Leopard Trust tied for the first place in the vote”, Oliver says.

The cat caught his eye with its beauty, but it was their need for help that made him act: “At first I was attracted to the charity because the snow leopards were adorable on the home page.  When I read more, though, I learned that the situation that they are in is unique and there are more complex issues involved, including the local population who are trying to protect their livelihood, which can be threatened by snow leopards taking their farm animals.”

Every Save Counts

In 2015, Oliver decided to raise funds for these cats once again – and he found a highly original and effective way to do so:  he got friends and family members to pledge $1 for every save he’d make during the upcoming hockey season.

Oliver with his certificate of achievement, awarded to him by his proud supporters (click to enlarge)
Oliver with his certificate of achievement, awarded to him by his proud supporters (click to enlarge)

Oliver’s team, the New York City Cyclones, consisted of 17 players aged 11 and 12 from New York City and Brooklyn.  The Pee Wee A level team competed in the Long Island Amateur Hockey League and was successful in making it to the league play offs again this year! Their goaltender clearly had a large role in their successful run. In 24 games, Oliver made 585 saves – an average of 24.375 stops per game. In one game in November alone, he stopped a whopping 52 shots!

His teammates were in the dark about his challenge to help save snow leopards at first. “I didn’t talk about it much, just focused on doing my job in the net and stopping pucks”, Oliver says. In February, as he passed 500 saves, his mom told his coaches about his amazing project, and they handed Oliver a certificate to celebrate his achievements. As the season ended, his total stood at 585 shots saved – and $585 raised for snow leopards!

When Oliver’s mom, Eva, sent the donation in his name and told us about his project, we simply had to find out more and share Oliver’s story with our supporters. “I’m hoping that more people will learn about my project and find their own ways to help snow leopards too”, Oliver says.

“You Can Make A Difference, No Matter How Small You May Seem”

Oliver draws inspiration from one of his favorite NHL players, Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres, and the unlikely story of how this relatively unknown player became an NHL All-Star. “I like him because he’s from Latvia, where my family is also from, and it’s a place I really loved visiting.  But most of all, I think it is cool that he was voted an NHL All-Star in 2015 because of the support of his country! Latvians were passionate about voting for him and it shows how you can make a difference no matter how small you may seem to the rest of the world. It’s about how much you care about the cause.  Snow leopards may have a small population but if people are passionate enough, we can make a difference.”

Masks are a way for goalies to express their personality. Oliver rocked a wolf last season. He hopes to have a snow leopard design next year
Masks are a way for goalies to express their personality. Oliver rocked a wolf last season. He hopes to have a snow leopard design next year

His other favorite player is a more likely choice for a goalie living in New York City: Henrik Lundqvist, the superstar netminder and human wall of the NHL’s New York Rangers. “ I really enjoy watching him play.  We go to a lot of Rangers games and I always learn something from him.  And he has very cool masks”, Oliver says. “Maybe Lundqvist will get a snow leopard painted on his next one. [HE SHOULD!]  I hope I can get mine painted like that too for my next season with the NYC Cyclones.”

NHL or Wildlife Conservation?

Given Oliver’s big passions for both hockey and wildlife, we wanted to know which of them he would rather turn into a dream career. “That’s a hard one”, Oliver says. “On one hand, being an NHL goalie would be very exciting and I could also use my job to raise awareness for Snow Leopard Trust when I was off the ice.  On the other hand, being a snow leopard scientist would let me interact with the animals and make a difference for snow leopards directly.”

We’re pretty sure he’ll do great in both fields – or whatever else he chooses to dedicate himself to.

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We’d like to thank Oliver and Eva Huston for making this inspiring story come to life, and for sharing it with us. We’re also grateful to Oliver’s teammates and coaches of the New York Cyclones for letting the opposing team take a good number of shots for Oliver to save. Good luck next season!

2 Comments

  1. Oliver, you are an inspiration to all by your actions regarding saving snow leopards! Please continue on this important mission and convince the other players to also do something that will benefit others.

    I am a (really) long-time hockey fan and even though I am an L. A. Kings fan, when you come up to the majors I will be rooting for you!

    Thank you for your compassion!

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