Crowds of students erupted in cheers as players from the Edmonton Thunder (Pacific) and the LHFDQ Nord (Quebec) hit the ice at Bill Copeland Centre for the 2013 Esso Cup, Canada’s National Female Midget Championship. More than 1,500 students from local elementary and middle schools were at the game Thursday, April 25 to cheer on two of the six teams from across the country.
Just a half an hour earlier the rink had been silent. No players had taken to the ice and fans had not yet secured their seats. Quiet voices entering the arena hinted that some younger guests would be in attendance for the 12 p.m. game. When the students filed into the rink and sat down row by row, the volume spiked. The littlest fans could be heard chanting, “Go Hockey! Go Hockey!” and their excitement quickly became clear. Armed with green TELUS-sponsored noise makers, the crowds of students went wild as soon as the first players hit the ice.
“This is way better than doing homework,” said 12-year-old Ted Graveson of École Cascade Heights Elementary in Burnaby.
If he wasn’t at the game with his class and many other students from his school, Graveson would be doing schoolwork. He is much happier to be out with his friends, cheering on the Quebec team.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s nice that we have the opportunity to do this.”
The students are clearly interested in hockey. Each side of the arena is cheering for a different team, which was assigned to their schools in the days prior. Homemade signs can be found in the crowd and the students seem to know just about every hockey-related cheer or song. They follow the game intensely, their energy unwavering.
Graveson loves hockey and watched the entire game intently. He is a big Vancouver Canucks fan and said he has been to four or five hockey games before, but realizes that for many students, this is the first hockey game that they have ever seen.
“For a lot of them, this is the only opportunity they have to go to a hockey game,” Grade 7 Cascade Heights teacher Tim Mccresh said. “For those kids who can’t get down to … see the Canucks, it’s the next best thing.”
Mccresh believes that it’s important to get kids involved in sports, though he says that many don’t always have the opportunity to do so. He says that it’s nice for these kids to be out at the Esso Cup, where they can experience a true hockey atmosphere.
The reason the schools are out to watch the games is because of Hockey Canada’s schools programming. All six of the teams visited different schools, attending pep rallies, playing floor hockey with the students and interacting with elementary school classes.
Hockey Canada also brings in hockey-related books, pucks and school supplies, which are always a hit with the kids, according to Mandi Duhamel, manager of female development for Hockey Canada, who oversees the schools program.
Typically, the players will visit the elementary schools the day before the students go on a field trip to the game to watch the girls play. This means they have already connected with the kids, often signing autographs, and their loyal fans frequently bring signs the next day to cheer them on.
“It’s a big process, but it’s fantastic, everybody loves it,” Duhamel said. “The kids get into it and the teams actually get to go out and see the impact they have on everybody.”
As there are six teams in the championship, the players couldn’t reach all the schools in the community; however, all schools were welcome to come to the tournament. Teachers just had to sign up on Hockey Canada’s school program page and register their class for a specific date and game time.
In addition to Hockey Canada’s school programing, the tournament’s host, Burnaby Minor Hockey Association, asked Armstrong Elementary School principal Ernie Kashima to bring in students to attend the games, as well as 20 high school volunteers. About 6,000 students were in attendance for the noon games from Monday to Thursday.
The kids who made it out to the games snacked on granola bars and juice boxes provided by Burnaby Firefighters Charitable Society through their nutritional snack program. They donated $7,000 worth of healthy snacks for the students watching the games. The Burnaby Firefighters Charitable Society also made a $3,000 cash donation to the Esso Cup to support transportation costs for the student attending the games, while also providing first responder services.
All of the teams got a chance to play a 12 p.m. game in front of the student-packed arena. Edmonton Thunder’s Elizabeth Salyn said that for many of her teammates, this game was the fullest rink they have played in front of. The full fan base helped pump up the girls and keep them motivated.
“Our school just pushed us that much harder and kept us going when we got tired,” she said.
Beneficial for both students and players, Hockey Canada’s schools program teaches students about Canada’s greatest sport and involves them in the spirit of the game.