CALGARY, AB -- One year would’ve been satisfying enough.
But to see the Calgary Flames and Sport Chek Development Camp reach a fifth year leaves founder Rob Kerr in awe.
“When we started I didn’t think we’d get the first year off the ground,” said Kerr, who started the camp under the moniker, ‘CTRL-F.’ “The heart was bigger than the brain.
“It got floated to a charity and I said, ‘This is what I’d like to do,’ and they said no. If there was $10,000 or $15,000 in sponsorship they would think about it, and I was devastated. All I wanted to do was try to do something cool for the community.
“People started to get involved. We had our first camp. The Flames paid for our lunches. Pro Skate bought the jerseys. It was a success beyond our wildest dreams. We had a good turnout. We had 45, 50 kids. Everybody seemed to have a good time.
“It snowballed and here we are five years later. Sport Chek has come on board. The Flames have put a lot of resources into it.
"We wanted to target kids who never get the chance to go to a hockey school or have that special moment."
The heart behind the camp is definitely big.
The two-day camp will include on-ice coaching, classroom instruction, hockey presentations, sport activities and a big league experience game for youth skaters who may not have the means necessary to participate otherwise.
“Many of us in the game, we’ve got something that connects us … something in our childhood,” Kerr said. “I think it’s terrible that a kid, because whatever means beyond his control, couldn’t participate in a hockey camp or couldn’t meet someone or couldn’t have that message or part in their life.”
Flames forward Hunter Shinkaruk will attend the camp on Sunday for a ceremonial puck-drop, and alumni Rene Corbet and Jeff Shantz will act as honourary coaches.
Players and their families will also observe presentations from Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan, former Calgary Stampeders long-snapper Randy Chevrier, and recently retired NHL linesman Mike Cvik.
The camp will be hosted by the SAIT Trojans, and features players from the Flames Foundation’s EvenStrength Program, HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society) and Football Hockey Link.
“It’s a perfect storm,” Kerr said. “Without SAIT donating the space and the venue, and without Sport Chek coming on board and putting their finances behind it, and without the organization of the Flames Foundation, and you add HEROS and Football Hockey Link and the Even-Strength Program and it all comes together.
“It’s pretty incredible.”
“I would say of the things I get to do in life, this is probably the most rewarding and terrifying thing I do. It really is,” said Kerr.
“The percentage of kids to play at the highest level are miniscule, but for many of us what we picked up and learned in hockey still serves us today. I never played a high level of hockey. I played house league my entire career. But I benefited so much.
“I’m not a great leader, but I have a little bit of understanding because when I was that age he took me aside and made me captain and showed me what I had to do. I think we can instill some of those things in these kids.
“Some will get it. Some won’t. But I think at the end of the weekend I just want them to understand that they’re valuable and a part of something and being really, really, really good on the ice is just one part of the equation.”
And now in its fifth year, the program is returning those same youngsters that previously participated.
Now as mentors to a new generation.
“That’s the greatest, to me, of all of this,” Kerr said. “All the work that all of us has done has resulted in some kids saying they want to come back and help the next generation, and that circle is complete.”