If you love hockey, you'd love this.
Five dozen or so Grade 5 students from the southwest quadrant of the Toronto District School Board on their final day of Hockey Academy, a program designed to give boys and girls who have never had the opportunity to play the game that chance, out on the ice at the Mastercard Centre this morning at 7 a.m. showing all they've learned during the last eight weeks.
Which is a lot.
They come to the program out of need or opportunity or perhaps because they are new Canadians without ties to the game, are outfitted with a complete set of hockey gear, including skates, and begin to learn the sport they might have only seen on TV or heard about in the schoolyard.
And my goodness, do they learn.
Today was the final day, the day when they split the kids up into four teams and bring in a couple of real-live goalies - my 12-year-old son and his Humber Valley Sharks peewee partner Quinn were on hand - to give all these kids the chance to experience a real game.
Some are still doing that slow tip-toe around the ice, or trying to figure out whether they really prefer shooting right or left. Others have gained the confidence to try a slapshot, or maybe a little dipsy-doo around a defenceman. Before the game started, a couple skated over to my son, not totally sure how to play, but knowing they shouldn't begin without high-fiving their goalie or giving him a tap on the pads.
And when they score! Oh my, the celebration! All the negatives often associated with the game, particularly with minor hockey, just evaporate.
All the equipment is donated, as is the ice time, and the teachers donate their time. Without all three, this program doesn't happen. Last year, about 10 youngsters went from the program to play house league hockey this year, not necessarily an easy or affordable thing for a lot of families. Just so you know, many of the hockey associations in the GTA have programs in which you can sponsor a child, with the monies going towards paying that boy or girl's registration fee.
If you love the game, can you think of a better idea at this time of year?