A minor hockey group in Nova Scotia is working to break down barriers that keep kids from playing the game.
The Eastern Shore Minor Hockey Association (ESMHA) is hoping to inspire more youth to lace up their skates in rural communities through its new program.
President Paul Anderson says they’ve launched the “Introduction to Hockey” program and held a showcase at the Eastern Shore Recreation Centre on Saturday to bring the community into the rink over a shared love of hockey.
“To celebrate not only the success of the program but to encourage other rural communities that anybody can do this program,” Anderson says. “It just takes some time and hard work from volunteers.”
The initiative was launched after a committee was struck in 2020 with the goal of engaging youth and connecting communities. It offers kids a lighter practice schedule with ten sessions located at the community rink along with funding to help cover the cost of hockey gear.
Development Co-ordinator Becky Warner says youth in rural regions can face unique challenges to playing the sport.
“Sometimes there’s more travel to the local rink. There might be more financial burdens in a rural community,” she says. “We just knew we could get more youth engagement as there’s not as much opportunity for even recreation or sports in general.”
Warner says she’s experienced firsthand the value of connecting to the community through hockey.
“I grew up here, I played hockey here at Eastern Shore since I was four. The smell of the Zamboni fumes gets me every time,” she says. “That’s a core memory I have, and to me, it was all about creating that for other children who may want that as well.”
Young hockey players say the program inspires them to dream big and to have fun.
“It’s a sport!” Benjamin Rideout says. “Players can get better at it and play in the national leagues.”
Friends Lily Boutilier and Ella Lambert are happy to spend time together on the ice.
“It’s just really good to make new friends and just build your skill in hockey,” Boutilier says.
“Same for me, I’m really excited, sometimes nervous, but I’m always having fun during the game,” Lambert adds.
Organizers say the program has been a big success since it launched in November. The showcase saw 43 players put on their skates and hit the ice on Saturday.
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