A group of kids from Salmon Arm and the surrounding area took their first steps onto the ice and learned how to skate, shoot and work as a team over the past few months.
They were the first group to complete the First Shift program in Salmon Arm, attending their last scheduled ice time on Saturday, Dec. 17. Response to the program was so positive, however, that additional practices have been added.
Players received a certificate of completion and a toque following the Dec. 17 practice.
This is the second year of the Canada-wide program, sponsored by Canadian Tire and Bauer, but the first time it was held in Salmon Arm.
The program, open to children ages six to 10 who aren’t enrolled in hockey, provided relatively inexpensive equipment and instruction for players in hopes of easing their entry into the sport.
Salmon Arm Minor Hockey (SAMHA) administrator Roy Sakaki said the reaction at the initial meeting when the kids got their equipment was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
“The progress from the first session until now has been outstanding…,” he said.
The added sessions will be held on Jan. 3, 4, 21 and 22.
“At the beginning there, they could barely stand up. The big thing is the balance. Some of those kids had never put skates on so they get out on the ice and they’re falling and crawling,” said Sakaki. “Gradually, they can stand up and keep their balance, and then it’s stick in hand.”
The new hockey players were helped along by a dedicated group of trained volunteer coaches.
Sakaki said feedback from players and their parents was so positive they plan to run the program again next year. He hopes the experience will convince the players to join SAMHA teams next year.
According to Sakaki, SAMHA currently has more than 400 young players – the most there has ever been – and he hopes First Shift players will add to that number.
If they do decide to join SAMHA teams, most of the First Shift players will be on initiation teams, either because they are the appropriate age or because they requested to play down due to lack of experience.
Sakaki said developing their skating skills will be the most important thing for making the First Shift participants better hockey players. He said above all else, the new players need a place to keep skating,
Along with the upcoming ice-time in January, Sakaki said the frozen ponds and lakes will provide an opportunity to get on the ice.
“From where they are now, they can never have enough practice to get better skating,” said Sakaki, adding he hopes all First Shift players continue with hockey.