Newbridge Arena was buzzing with excitement, as kids taking part in the Islanders Spring Hockey Academy made their way onto the ice. As the boys and girls skated around the rink, the enthusiasm was evident on all of their faces.
One of the boys in the group was 12-year-old Robert Johnston, who donned an orange Islanders jersey. As he skated past his grandmother— who was standing along the sideboards—he gave her a small smile. His grandmother then turned—smiled herself—and said, almost sheepishly; “He told me that he’s found his sport.”
On the surface, Robert’s story is not unlike the other children at Newbridge Arena that Monday night—or the 100-plus children enrolled in the program this spring. The Islanders Hockey Academy provides entry-level hockey players ages 6-14 with an opportunity to play the sport at no cost—equipment included. All that is asked in return is that each child who participates sells ticket vouchers as a fundraiser.
However, Robert’s story is a special one. It is not just a story of a child finding “their sport,” but one of a child—in many ways—finding himself.
“Absolutely,” agreed his mother, Lisa Johnston.
Robert has been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He also has been receiving occupational therapy since he was a young child, after being born with very low muscle tone.
Robert works on his stick-handling during the Islanders Spring Hockey Academy.
However, none of this has stopped Robert from learning, playing and excelling at the sport of hockey. In fact, when he’s on the ice, his mother says he’s like another person.
“It’s nice for him to have someplace that he’s excited to go to,” Lisa Johnston said. “He’s gotten so much confidence from this, which I am really very happy about. He sometimes feels like he stands out, and not in a good way. When he goes to play hockey, he really feels like he fits in and it’s been such a huge boost for his self-esteem.”
When he’s out on the ice, Robert is no different than any young boy learning to play. And when he talks about playing the game, he speaks in a low, but confident voice. You can’t help but feel his enthusiasm.
“It feels great,” Robert said, when asked about how much he likes playing hockey. “I feel like I am improving my skating, and my balance, and my shooting.”
When asked about what he enjoys most about playing in the Islanders Hockey Academy, Robert mentioned how the instructors have helped him on and off the ice.
“I feel like I’m getting better, and that they’re a big help in my life,” Robert said proudly.
For Dan Bedard, the Islanders Director of Amateur Hockey Development, Robert’s story is heartwarming—and one that goes beyond simply learning a new sport.
Robert, along with Sparky and Islanders Director of Amateur Hockey Development Dan Bedard.
“Robert is a caring young man who is always looking out for the best interests of others,” Bedard said. “He is the first one to arrive at the rink, and is always willing to assist the other kids in the program in getting dressed or picking the kids up off the ice. Robert brings a lot of warmth with his concern for others to this game played in a frigid climate.”
According to Lisa Johnston, it is—in many ways—exactly what her son needed. He has had trouble playing team sports, such as soccer and baseball, in the past. But Robert and hockey seem to fit together very well.
“He has never felt comfortable playing any sport,” said Lisa Johnston, who has already signed Robert up for the Fall Hockey Academy. “But it’s so great that he has other kids that he feels a connection with. It’s a great social outlet. I am so happy.”
For information on how your child can get involved with the Islanders Hockey Academy, fill out the form below, or call 1.800.882.ISLES.