The Hockey Canada Skills Academy at the East Wiltshire Intermediate School has been running for a number of years in Cornwall, P.E.I. It has close to 70 members from Grades 7-9 with a wide range of skill levels. Students travel to the rink once a week on Wednesday afternoons, and also go bi-weekly to Synergy Fitness and Nutrition where they partake in off-ice conditioning drills.
The program has always tried to develop individual skills. However, a bigger part has been harnessing the team aspect and relationships that can be formed in sports. Over the last two years, the program has had the opportunity to include special-needs students from the school and it has shifted the HCSA in a different direction.
Ben Matheson is a Grade 8 student with Down syndrome who was introduced to the program last year. He loves the game but had not found an opportunity to play his favorite sport. He attended a few community skates, and after communication with his parents it was decided he would join the HCSA program. Ben hasn’t looked back since.
He participates for the entire ice session and can’t wait to get to the rink. Ben has learned to dress himself for the ice, participates in drills and can’t wait to score goals in the game each week. His skating has improved and he is currently working on his celebrations! Ben’s passion for hockey is unbelievable. His mother, Jean, has mentioned that Ben wants to go to school on weekends with the hope that the number of school days will pass quicker and he can get back on the ice again.
A rise in camaraderie amongst the students is tied directly with Ben’s participation. They are not only helpful with Ben and respectful of his needs on the ice, but have improved upon how they work with each other. Ben’s influence on the atmosphere at the rink is something really special to see, and the students and coaches take time each week to celebrate each goal he scores.
“Ben’s always smiling and having a great time out on the ice,” says Braeden Tremere, a fellow Grade 8 student. “He always brings a positive influence to the practice, and when he scores we all celebrate with him. You can just tell how much he really loves hockey.”
“It is always more fun when Ben is on the ice because we get to celebrate with him and we know that he is having so much fun,” adds Jay MacDonald, another classmate of Ben’s.
The success Ben is having has also led to another special-needs student, Dylan Cummings, joining the HCSA program. Dylan looks up to Ben and tries to follow the example he has set.
Just last month, Ben was asked if he would join a minor hockey team in North Rustico, P.E.I. This is a huge accomplishment for Ben, marking the first time he has been able to play minor hockey.