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City, Blazers make hockey extra special
The second season of Hockey for Youth with Special Needs has begun and the kids can’t wait to get back on the ice.
With the support of the Kamloops Blazers, the Kamloops Blazers Sports Foundation and Consignor Sports, the program had a successful first season and has grown in popularity this year, with seven new members and 14 returnees.
Participants and family members visited Consignor Sports last week for an equipment fitting in preparation for their first on-ice session on the weekend.
Coach Ashly Hay and Kamloops Blazers Matt Needham, Mitch Friesen, Brayden Gelsinger and Josh Connolly were on hand to help the kids get suited up.
“It’s nice to help out young guys,” said Connolly as he helped Andrew Watkins lace up a pair of skates. “It’s been a privilege to play for the Blazers, so it’s nice to help out and give back to the community.”
All of the program’s participants are of differing disabilities, ages and levels of hockey experience.
Despite their differences, Hay said, the kids are able to connect with each other quickly because of their common love of hockey.
“They have quite a bond with each other, with myself and the coaches,” Hay said.
“It’s funny because even though we have seven and eight-year-olds and we have 17-year-olds, they all mesh well and they all get along fantastically, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Between the City of Kamloops and Consignor Sports, participants are given most of the basic equipment, such as hockey gloves, shin pads, elbow pads and hockey pants.
They also receive a $35 discount from Consignor Sports to help pay for a helmet, a stick, skates and any other equipment they still need.
“What we love about [the program] is its innocence,” said Consignor Sports owner Ted Desireau. “These kids are so excited to just put on their hockey equipment. If it’s 10 sizes too big, they don’t care. They just want to go out and play hockey.”
For Dave Watkins and son Andrew, who also participated in the program last year, the experience has been rewarding.
“Andrew couldn’t skate when he started,” Watkins said. “He was skating after two practices and, by the time we finished, he was a lot faster than I am.”
Dave and Andrew learned about the program from Andrew’s teacher.
Andrew, whose favourite part of playing hockey is skating, lights up at the mention of trying on a pair of skates and saying hi to a friend from last year’s team,
“He’s definitely getting interested in sports more,” Dave said.
“He watches hockey all the time now and he’s thrilled about going skating again.”
From the city’s perspective, the program is aimed at providing the kids with a forum for socialization, while at the same time encouraging them to get physically involved in a team sport.
Last season, the team travelled to a tournament in Penticton, involving clubs from Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon.
The squad plans to head to Kelowna for a tournament this year.
The city hopes the program will continue to grow and that it can one day develop a local league.
But, even in its current form, the benefits for the participants are evident.
“All the kids are happy,” Hay said.
“It’s such a special program to watch because it’s kids that are facing challenges every day.
“This is an extra challenge and they’re succeeding at it.”