Every Friday morning for 16 weeks, Queen’s Park Elementary students learned how to play hockey.
Twenty-eight students hit the ice at Memorial Arena from 7 to 8 .m. to develop basic to atom level skills during one-hour sessions under coach Alex Gardner and principal Scott Edwards.
“It was an exceptional year. Just to see the growth in all the kids, from my point of view, I’m grinning from ear to ear,” said Gardner, who along with Edwards made a presentation before Sunday afternoon’s finale to recognize Canadian Tire and the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame for their contributions to the program. “I could just see the progress there. We’re giving a lot of those kids the opportunity to play hockey who wouldn’t have that opportunity just is huge for me.”
Mitch MacMillan represented his father Doug, who own’s Penticton’s Canadian Tire and contributed equipment, while Bruce Judd of the B.C. HHoF paid for the ice rental.
“We’re really privileged to do it. The comments that we’re getting back from teachers that it does an enormous benefit to the kids that are in the school, they come to class and they are more vibrant. That was really nice to hear,” said Judd.
The B.C.HHoF paid just under $2,000 for the ice rentals and Judd said they will continue to help as long as the program’s organizers want it.
“This has been a great program for the kids,” said Gardner. “Without those people involved, it wouldn’t happen. We wouldn’t have the money to buy the ice sheet. We did get support as well from Global Spectrum for having ice available. It’s basically been a huge community commitment towards these kids. It’s just done wonders for a lot of those kids who have seen the hockey and now have joined the minor hockey.”
Support from Penticton Minor Hockey Association and Peter’s Bros. Construction has helped between six to eight kids a year enter PMHA. Gardner said initially when they first started giving out scholarships to kids, parents didn’t fully grasp the commitment they were getting into. That has changed.
In the Queen’s Park program, which continued after its Learn to Skate program ended in 2012, Gardner and the other coaches teach the kids everything from learning how to skate to stick handling and positioning.
“They are always working on trying to improve,” added Gardner. “These are all real coachable kids who are striving to get better. They love the game.”