After months of planning and invaluable help from league volunteers and local organizations, the youth hockey pilot officially started in early January.

“We were technically supposed to start before Christmas, but it got too busy,” says Gaetan Benoit, volunteer coordinator for Eastwood. He described the conditions on the first day of practice as “the perfect winter evening for outdoor hockey. Conditions were just ideal.”

On that first session at Eastwood’s rink, 15 kids attended, although 25-28 registered. 

“We’ll probably get numbers up as the season progresses,” says Benoit. He says the delay in starting the pilot was likely why there were fewer kids than expected.

While Delton and Eastwood have the younger kids, Spruce Ave will be hosting the older youth.

At the time of the interview, the program was at the orientation and initiation phase. Some kids already know how to skate, while others don’t. These first few sessions are focused on teaching basic skills.

“In the first one-hour session, they’re not all going to know how to skate. We’re partners with Free Play for Kids, and they had some trained mentors and tutors there,” says Benoit. “There were lots of volunteers tying skates and making hot chocolate.”

After four to five sessions on the ice, organizers hope to get the kids playing shinny hockey sessions.

Janet Henderson, the vice president of Delton Community League, attended the first day of practice at Delton’s rink.

“There were a lot less kids than we expected, which was OK because it took time to fit helmets and skates,” Henderson says. “It was a learning experience the first day. I enjoyed seeing the kids out there.”

The instructors and volunteers started participants with the basics, and Henderson says she thinks more instructors are still needed. She says details still need to be worked out and it’s been a bit of a learning curve.

“We want to keep the kids busy,” Henderson says.

Participants enjoyed perfect skating weather at Eastwood. | Kate Wilson

Henderson says organizers are trying to keep the pilot program going as long as possible.

“I think it’s a good thing to do. The outdoor rinks aren’t as used as they used to be.”

Henderson says it took “lots of people, funding, and volunteers” to get the pilot program started. Hockey Edmonton spearheaded the pilot program, Sports Central offered equipment, and Free Play for Kids offered coaches. The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation was also involved, and of course the leagues.

“This is what it takes to do something for the kids,” she says. 

For more information, contact rink coordinators: [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]

SCHEDULE

Delton – 6 to 8 years old. Mon, 4 to 5:30 p.m.

Eastwood – 7 to 12 years old. Tues, 4 to 5:30 p.m.

Delton – 9 to 12 years old. Wed, 4 to 5:30 p.m.

Spruce Ave – 9 to 16 years old. Thurs, 4 to 5:30 p.m.