The calendar says August, but hockey season has come early for 37 young players in Richmond, B.C.
The Hockey Canada Foundation’s Dreams Come True program visited the Lower Mainland on Aug. 23, bringing with it brand-new equipment and registration fees for every participant, who ranged in age from six to 15 years old.
It’s no secret the cost of hockey – namely registration fees and equipment costs – is rising, and there are a number of Canadian families who just can’t afford to put their children on the ice.
That’s where the Hockey Canada and the Hockey Canada Foundation, along with partners like Bauer, Sport Chek and the Canadian Tire JumpStart program, comes in.
“A program like Dreams Come True gives an opportunity for kids that may not get that chance to access the game like others, so that’s important,” said Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada. “Beyond that, it’s just making sure we get kids on the ice. In this case, cost is not prohibitive, and that’s important and something we identify with. At the end of the day, it’s very symbolic to what Hockey Canada is all about.”
The players were selected through KidSport B.C., who worked with their local chapters to identify young players, and their families, who would benefit from the program.
They were invited to the Richmond Olympic Oval, where Sport Chek staff – as well as guests like Renney, Hockey Canada Foundation chair Jim Treliving and board member Ryan Walter – outfitted them head to toe with new equipment.
“I can’t even imagine getting a brand-new set of equipment and being able to play a season of hockey, a sport that they love and otherwise might not have the opportunity to do,” said Katie McCallum, coordinator with KidSport B.C. “So it’s something that they’ll cherish for a really long time.”
But the day was about much more than just getting new equipment.
The players took to the climbing wall at the Olympic Oval, participated in team-building activities, and stepped onto the ice for a fun Hockey Canada skills session run by Walter, a 15-year NHLer and former captain of Canada’s National Junior Team, Hockey Canada school programs manager Pier-Alexandre Poulin and instructors from B.C. Hockey.
“The kids were great, a lot of fun,” Walter said. “We had some kids today that were on the ice for the first time, so that’s pretty amazing, and hopefully they’ve had a fun day.”
And that’s what it’s all about for Hockey Canada and the Hockey Canada Foundation – getting new players on the ice, experiencing Canada’s game and being a part of something that is so simply Canadian.
“We want kids in the game,” Treliving said. “It’s our national sport, and it’s not all just about winning gold medals. It’s about getting kids into hockey at a very early age, and having fun and enjoying the game. That’s what it’s all about.”
Launched during the 2007-08 season in Toronto, Ont., and Victoria, B.C., the Dreams Come True program has since helped more than 800 kids who wanted to play, but whose families could not afford to pay.
The program has gone coast to coast to coast, from Victoria to Yellowknife, N.W.T., to Charlottetown, P.E.I.
By involving the 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.
“It just brings you back to what it’s all about,” Renney said. “It’s not about goals and assists, and it’s not about championships. It’s about putting the gear on and playing – just playing the game. It doesn’t get any better than that.”