Every season, hundreds of thousands of kids take to the ice in rinks from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador. Some have dreams of one day playing in the NHL; some just want to play.
But sometimes just playing isn’t an option. With the cost of hockey – namely registration fees and equipment costs – rising, there are families who just can’t afford to put their children on the ice.
That’s where the Hockey Canada Foundation and Hockey Canada’s Dreams Come True program come in.
Launched during the 2007-08 season in Toronto and Victoria, B.C., where Hockey Canada partnered with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks, respectively, the Dreams Come True program was implemented to improve accessibility to the sport. Since then, the program has helped more than 600 kids who wanted to play, but whose families could not afford to pay.
On Sept. 23-24, the program stopped in Winnipeg, Man. – the last of Canada’s seven NHL cities to be visited – where 40 young players were outfitted head to toe with equipment, thanks to SportChek, before taking to the ice at the St. James Civic Centre.
“Anything you could think of to play hockey, (the players) get,” Bryan Swain, Hockey Canada’s manager of marketing services and events, said of SportChek’s contributions. “It’s like Christmas all over again. These kids just walk around with their bag and just keep getting it filled up.”
The weekend in Winnipeg was possible in large part because of the efforts of Hockey Winnipeg, Hockey Manitoba and the local minor hockey associations, which selected the players and supplied the volunteers for the two-day event.
By involving the local provincial minor hockey branches and host minor hockey associations, the Dreams Come True program ensures that participation takes place in a safe, supportive environment, subject to same standards of existing Hockey Canada programs.
The city’s new NHL team also played a role – the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation gave every participant a free Jets t-shirt, and let parents know they could apply for future funding through the Foundation to help their children play hockey.
“Unfortunately, there are financial barriers to playing the game. It’s just become a very expensive game to break in to,” said Mark Chipman, owner of the Jets and a member of the Hockey Canada Foundation Board of Directors. “That’s why a program like this is great. We want to see kids who have never been on the ice before, see them feel it for the first time.”
Swain says of the 40 players on the ice, 90 per cent had never before laced up the skates and had a chance to play hockey, which makes a program like Dreams Come True all that more rewarding for everyone involved.
“It’s what we want,” he said. “More kids on the ice, playing the game they love.”