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Take a Shot program providing barrier-free hockey lessons

Community ProfileTake a Shot program providing barrier-free hockey lessons

Twenty-five children geared up and made their way onto the ice of the Brantford and District Civic Centre for their practice with Brantford Community Hockey League’s (BCHL) Take a Shot Hockey program on Monday, February 5, 2024.

The Take a Shot Hockey program is a ten week, no cost, and barrier-free, learn-to-play program for underserved and marginalized youth, ages eight to 12.

The gateway program is designed to take children who have never played hockey and for some, who have never even been on the ice before, and graduate them through the basics of hockey so they transition into traditional minor sports programs like house leagues or recreational levels.

Children learn how to safely fall during the Take a Shot Hockey program on Monday, February 5, 2024.

From supplying the equipment and teaching the kids how to put on their equipment, to getting on the ice, how to balance, move forward, fall safely and get back up, the program covers the fundamentals of ice hockey before breaking down the rules and positions of the game.

“These are kids that have never played hockey before, and no matter what level they initially start at, by the end of the ten weeks, we want all of them to have those basic skills so they are comfortable with skating, stopping and handling a puck,” Sandra Gagne, General Manager of BCHL. “They all have to go through the falling down and the getting up in order to move forward and its designed so it isn’t overwhelming.”

One youngster celebrates his accomplishment during the Take a Shot Hockey program on Monday, February 5, 2024.

While some of the children are newcomers to Canada and there are some language barriers, Gagne noted that her and her team have made sure to take the extra time in showing them rather than just explaining with words.

Before the program begins, children are fitted and supplied with the appropriate equipment and later begin to meet twice a week for an hour at a time and are given a safe place to learn without judgment. Each child also receives a small hand-drawn booklet on skate equipment as well as simple YouTube videos to help them feel more confident in the basics.

One child shows off his stick-handling skills during the Take a Shot Hockey program on Monday, February 5, 2024.

As they continue on through the weeks, they eventually teach the children the positions and how to play the game along with the rules.

“We help out on the ice, demonstrate the drills we’re going to work on and help the kids progress through the different stages to hopefully move them on to house league hockey. Its been really good and exciting,” said Brock McEachern, Vice President of the Board for BCHL and a Take a Shot coach. “When these kids started, they had never played any hockey, and there were quite a few of them that had never even skated. So we’re really starting from ground zero and trying to build them up to become a good skater. We are trying to build that confidence up to where they have a lifelong love of the game and want to play hockey. Right now, we’re still working on a lot of skating and getting that balance and the hockey stance down. We’re learning how to get out of that stance and into what we call a ready to skate position. They’ve started to learn stopping, a bit of small crossovers. We have some kids that are progressing and have started to have a little scrimmage at the end of the hour. It’s been awesome to watch them all progress.”

One child shows off his newly gained confidence during the Take a Shot Hockey program on Monday, February 5, 2024.

Gagne said that this all wouldn’t be possible without their various sponsors.

“The Bulldogs Foundation have bought all the equipment for these sessions and they really took a shot on us because this is a new program and they were able to help us make this happen. Jumpstart has also been great, they paid for all of the ice time, all the coach training and the insurance,” said Gagne. “Waterous Holden Amey Hitchon paid for all the jerseys, and it’s just been great to see everyone like the Henrique Montour Foundation, Giant Tiger and the others come together and give these kids a chance. It’s very meaningful because we had a concept, and then we needed the community to buy into it because we were committed.”

Henry Dunn McNeill, nine-years-old, said that he’s proud of himself for learning how to skate and stop better.

“I had skating lessons when I was five but this is my first time playing hockey,” he said. “I think the program is amazing and I really like it. I really love that all the equipment is free and I really really recommend it to everybody who doesn’t know about it.

Dunn McNeill said that he’s looking forward to learning how to skate backwards and more ways to stop, and hopes to continue on into a hockey league in the future.

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