by Rebecca Virgin
August 1, 2006
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(Toronto) -- You would think walking into the Leafs dressing room at Lakeshore Lions arena last week that the Leafs training camp had already started - but it hadn't, kids had taken over and they received the full pro hockey player treatment. Names on the stalls, jerseys hung, and equipment ready to go.
|Getting set to hit the ice. |
For the first time the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey School opened - a day school open to the public included two and half hours of on-ice instruction a day, fitness training and of course a little bit of fun.
"It's been a lifetime experience for these kids," said Steve Cooke, an on-ice instructor at the school. "To see them on the ice for the last two weeks with guys like Wendel Clark, Paul Maurice, and some of the Leaf players, you know trying to cover the hockey skills but also life skills, it's been a really fabulous two weeks."
Kids aged seven to 12 signed up into three different groups, novice to peewee, and got to skate with the likes of Matt Stajan and Kyle Wellwood, train with Matt Nichol, the Leafs strength and conditioning coach, go through demonstrations with the police dogs and fire department, and play lots of other sports.
"Everything that we've put together with this hockey school is to allow these kids to be kids on and off the ice with the best hockey experience that they'll probably ever have in their minor hockey career," said Greg Schell, coordinator, youth hockey development. "Every kid dreams of playing in the NHL, now we're just trying to help them realize that dream."
For ten special kids, the dream come true was even bigger. Through the Tim Horton's Hockey in the Neighbourhood program, also run by the Leafs a group of kids were sponsored to attend a week of hockey school free of charge.
"For them to come to this camp and be associated with kids with similar interests and similar habits it's great," said Schell. "It means the world to them. They'll never forget it and that's what it's all about. This is memories, this is dreams."
"They're the really special kids that you really see the passion for the game in," said Cooke. "A lot of them it's the first time with new equipment and they're having a blast."
Everyone involved from the kids, parents, councilors, instructors, and celebrity helpers all seemed to be having a blast.
"When I was a kid if I could have come out and skate with a Toronto Maple Leaf I'd have been so happy," said Matt Stajan. "Coming out on the ice with kids that play hockey I think it's great and it gives them something to shoot for."
Teammate Kyle Wellwood agreed.
"The kids seem to have a lot of fun, they get to put the jersey on, stay in our dressing room, so it's a pretty good experience. They're living the lifestyle right now, playing on the ice all day everyday and just having fun."
It didn't seem to get all a wide range of pro hockey help out to the school and it made all the difference to the experience that the kids went through.
"They're all here for one reason and that's to give back to the game, and it means the world to us," said Schell. "But most importantly it's the kids and what these kids are getting out of these guys here that have a fountain of hockey knowledge, it's second to none, it's outstanding."
As the kids wrapped up the week there was a lot talk about next year. For more information on the Leafs Hockey School for next summer you can go to the Leafs Hockey School web site.