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The opportunity of a lifetime

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

A new hockey program gives at-risk youth the chance to experience hockey.

For as long as there has been hockey, there has been opportunity.

Canada’s game is more than just goals, assists and saves, it’s a chance to laugh and learn and experience something that unites us all.

To a special group of kids in Vancouver, hockey already means even more than that and they’ve only been on the ice once in their lives.

A new hockey program that gives at-risk youth their first chance to experience hockey official kicked off last week.

Developed with the Canucks Alumni, National Hockey League Players Association Goals & Dreams program, Graham Lee of RG Properties and Scotia Capital, this partnership addresses the reality that the joy of hockey remains out of reach for at-risk kids because of circumstances beyond their control.

This exceptional venture changes all of that and is giving members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Vancouver the opportunity of a lifetime.

Every Friday afternoon 25 kids, ranging in age from 8 to 10-years-old, gather at Planet Ice in Coquitlam to learn the fundamentals of hockey and engage in a sport otherwise off limits in everyday life.

“One of the things with families, and especially in the lower mainland, because it’s such an expensive place to live, there are a lot of working poor families,” explained Carolyn Tuckwell, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Vancouver.

“They don’t necessarily have extra money to buy hockey equipment and they also don’t necessarily have the ability to leave the office to take their kids to hockey.”

This program gives these children a chance to experience something every Canadian has the right to enjoy and the benefits go far beyond simply learning how to skate and stickhandle.

“This really levels the playing field for them because these kids go to school the next week and they get to talk hockey with the other kids who play all the time,” said Tuckwell. “Any place where kids are disadvantaged in that way sets them apart, so this helps with inclusion and it helps with self confidence.”

The on-ice sessions are coached by members of the Canucks Alumni, including former stay-at-home defenceman Bob Murray, who was with the Canucks from 1974-77.

Murray and his team of former Canucks are more than willing to donate their time and energy to such a worthy cause knowing first hand how important hockey was for them at a young age.

“We had a rink in our backyard in Peterborough, Ontario so we literally came home after school and we were on the rink,” said Murray, a longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club.

“My dad and grandfather had floodlights from the house onto the rink so we could play well into the dark and then we played all weekend, so it literally all we did in the winter was play hockey in the backyard.

“These kids finally have a chance to experience the game and you can’t say enough about that.”

In the short term this program gives kids something to look forward to at the end of every week, but it also provides a vehicle to get started in minor hockey for those who really take to the sport.

For some kids this is their first time on skates, others began skating in the spring. Either way, Murray said there is an electric feeling come Friday afternoon. Simply handing out the equipment this initiative was able to secure through the National Hockey League Players Association Goals & Dreams program was quite the experience.

“It was like Christmas and they really wanted to get going. We had to put the wraps on them because they had the sticks out and they wanted to get going and unfortunately we weren’t going to be skating until the following Friday,” laughed Murray.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Vancouver, founded in 1936, is a leading provider of programs that support the healthy physical, educational and social development of 4,000 young people and their families in the community.

As Tockwell explained, Boys and Girls strives to be a home away from home for children in need, many of whom don’t have the ability to breakthrough the barriers they are faced with.

Overcoming this obstacle is personal for Tockwell and the sheer pride she feels when discussing the hockey program is evident.

“Anytime we can give kids a chance to pursue their dreams, we’re successful. We don’t know looking at 100 kids who is going to be Wayne Gretzky or a Roberto Luongo, we just don’t know. But without the chance to even try, they won’t get to be. This is really that chance for them.”

Click here for more information on the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Vancouver.

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