SAINT JOHN - Thanks to a unique partnership, nearly 100 kids in the Saint John area were treated to a Team Canada Christmas.
The Atlantic Centre of Excellence, in its attempt to connect with community hockey programs not under the mandate of Hockey Canada, staged a one-day skills camp on December 22nd at the Lord Beaverbrook Rink. The beneficiaries were boys and girls from the local School Hockey Program.
Aside from on-ice instruction, the atom- and peewee-age players attended sessions on respect, fitness and nutrition. Each player also received a Team Canada jersey, water bottle, dog tag and tuque.
"This is the very first time we've been involved with Hockey Canada," said Saint John's Art Comeau, co-ordinator of the school program. "The image of Hockey Canada is that they worry about developing skilled players to play with the Olympic program, but I think they're far more concerned with developing the whole child.
" For over 30 years, Comeau has volunteered his time for the school program, providing young players opportunities they might not otherwise have. The School Hockey Program has upwards of 400 kids involved from various schools in the Saint John area. For a variety of reasons, these kids are unable to be involved in organized minor hockey associations.
Comeau said kids in the program had been counting down the days in anticipation of donning Team Canada colours.
"Hopefully, this may turn into an annual thing."
That would please Mike Dawson, a development co-ordinator with the Atlantic Centre of Excellence.
"I think it's really important to recognize that there's a lot of hockey played in communities that isn't necessarily registered hockey in the (provincial and national) association," said Dawson.
"These kids love the game as much as the kids in the organized league. We all play the same game and we all can benefit in the same way from it. Hockey has so much to offer a child, both inside and outside of the arena and it is part of our job to reach out to as many kids as possible to share our great game and the experiences that it brings."
When it came to finding instructors, Dawson recruited teammates from his local Saint John ThunderCats senior team as well as some top-notch AAA level coaches from the area.
"The kids were exposed to some unbelievable coaching," he said. “We had guys who coach AAA teams and guys who have played at great levels. All of our staff had a local flavor and many were identifiable to kids and parents familiar with local hockey circles.
Ninety boys and girls spent the day being put through the paces of two on-ice sessions and several off-ice sessions and activities.
“The kids were the recipients of some great teaching and were exposed to a little bit of a higher intensity. The entire day was built around fun, but had many underlying important messages and teachings that will pay off in all aspects of their growth as hockey players and as people.”
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Director of Operations, Team Atlantic