Grazina Palmer already had her eldest two children in hockey.
But she wasn’t sure if her third would ever play the game. Nine-year-old Sarah, you see, was a fan of individual sports.
“Our daughter is pretty athletic but she never even really dreamed about playing hockey,” Grazina says.
That is until Sarah found out about Esso Fun Days. The program is run by Hockey Canada and its goal is to give females – the young and the young at heart – a fun introduction to the game of hockey so that they will become players for life.
And it works. The proof is in the stories of people like Grazina Palmer.
Grazina Palmer watched Sarah take part in an Esso Fun Days two years ago at Calgary’s Father David Bauer Arena. There was an on-ice session, where the players were taught the fundamentals of hockey, including skating forwards and backwards, passing, stick handling and shooting.
There also was an off-ice component, where participants toured Hockey Canada’s offices and got a glimpse at some of the hardware won by Team Canada at various international events.
What Grazina liked best was Esso Fun Days took the intimidation away from Sarah’s introduction to the game. Parents across Canada know how hard it is for newcomers to walk into a dressing room, look around and see others who know what they’re doing – be it lacing up skates or putting fresh tape on hockey sticks – and feel left out.
“They spent quite a bit of time on the ice and she really liked the female instructors who were helping,” Grazina says. “That took the intimidation off. There were quite a few girls who hadn’t played before, which made (Sarah) feel better. You know how it is. Everyone comes in there with their bags and they all know what they’re doing.”
The Esso Fun Days program is run throughout the hockey season in communities across Canada. Thompson, MB held a clinic in September and it did wonders for its female hockey numbers.
Maxine Larway, Female Director and Team Manager for bantam and midget teams in the Thompson Minor Hockey Association, says 27 new female players registered for minor hockey following Esso Fun Days. That brought the TMHA’s total to 47 female minor hockey players, meaning the total more than doubled as a result of the successful program.
“It was successful for many reasons,” Larway writes in an e-mail. “From the amount of energy volunteers put into this event to the degree of participation from our females who have played hockey most of their young lives. We challenged all existing female hockey players registered with Thompson Minor Hockey to ‘bring a buddy’ and gave all who took the challenge (which was 100 per cent) a special gift and recognition. We had draws, a free lunch (donated by a local business), equal on-ice and off-ice sessions.”
The word ‘free’ resonates with players like Sarah Palmer. Grazina says Sarah was thrilled to receive a free jersey. And Grazina, no doubt, was happy that her daughter’s intro to hockey was free. It paved the way for Sarah to find a love for hockey. Now 11, she’s in her first season of peewee.
Trina Radcliffe, Hockey Canada’s Manager of Female Development, says Esso Fun Days was put in place not only to drive the number of registered players, but to give new coaches a taste of what to expect.
“This program offers the participants the opportunity to try hockey at no cost without having to commit to an entire season,” Radcliffe says. “It is also a great way for female coaches to gain more experience coaching females of all ages and learning new techniques of coaching. We hope that communities will increase their overall registration of female hockey players and female coaches.”
Esso Fun Days Fun Facts
started in 1998
averages more than 1,100 participants each year
the program is a free, fun introduction for females to the game of Hockey Canada
participants receive free Esso Fun Days jersey, Team Canada bracelet and certificate of participation.