CALGARY -- Bob Hartley's on-ice sessions may have come a little earlier than anticipated this summer.
The Calgary Flames coach made a surprise appearance Saturday at the second annual CTRL-F (Calgary Teamwork-Respect-Leadership-Fun) Hockey Camp, a charity effort designed to give underprivileged youth a unique hockey experience. It continues Sunday at SAIT Polytechnic.
Hartley snuck onto the ice unannounced to help guide drills for the surprised group, a collection of house-league players ages 9 to 14.
"This is a treat for me, whenever you have a chance to be on the ice with young kids," Hartley said. "If you play this game with passion, you're going to have a smile on your face, and [Saturday] it was a great experience. I had lots of fun working with those young girls, with those young boys, and it's all for the right reasons.
"Everyone on the sheet of ice, we were there for the right reasons and teach the enjoyment of the game to those kids while they learn a little bit more about our game."
The CTRL-F camp gave 28 players the opportunity to participate via The EvenStrength Program, operated through Hockey Calgary and funded by the Flames Foundation for Life.
Another 22 from the Calgary chapter of HEROS (Hockey Education Reaching Out Society) joined, as did 12 skaters from Football Hockey Link, a program designed to bring together culturally diverse children through sports. Others participated via community outreach.
The camp includes on-ice components, classroom and gym sessions. The two-day effort is capped by a pro game experience at the SAIT Arena complete with music, announcers and a big-screen broadcast. Flames rookie Sven Baertschi is expected to drop the puck in a special opening ceremony.
The idea for CTRL-F comes from veteran broadcaster Rob Kerr of Sportsnet and is produced with the help of the SAIT Trojans men's hockey program.
"Based on the kids we're dealing with, the disadvantages they have, just to see them getting something, to see them feel like they're part of something, it's indescribable," Kerr said. "I'd be lying to you if I didn't choke back tears, four, five, six, seven, eight times [Saturday]."
All from the spirit generated from the camp.
"It was a rare kid that had matching socks, that had matching elbow pads, that had things that fit, but I didn't hear a single complaint," said Darren Haynes, who has covered the Flames for The Canadian Press since 1990. "It didn't matter. Some didn't even have socks, they just had shin pads on. The kids were really jazzed to get the opportunity to get out there, get on the ice and skate around and have an experience they don't get a chance to do very often."
Haynes is one of 20 from Calgary sports media who volunteered for the CTRL-F Hockey Camp as instructors and group leaders. And as special as the event is for the children participating, it's equally as rewarding for the volunteers.
"If you play this game with passion, you're going to have a smile on your face, and [Saturday] it was a great experience." -- Flames coach Bob Hartley
"My mom worked three jobs so I could play hockey as a kid and I know some of those kids out there, those parents are doing the exact same thing," said Megan Robinson, reporter for 660 News and Sportsnet 960 The Fan. "It makes me very thankful, and I think what I'm going to take away from it is to be once again incredibly grateful for the gifts I've been given and I hope they do the same."
If the smiles are any indicator, they are.
"Mine was probably bigger for sure, which is shocking," said Torie Peterson of CalgaryFlames.com. "Their enthusiasm is contagious. They're so excited and so happy and you take it and run with it as well. I think I was more enlightened by all this than they were."
Hartley, whose Flames are scheduled to open training camp in three weeks, wasn't sure whether his smile was brightest.
"I don't know," he said. "Every time I'm on the ice I always have a big smile. That's what I love so much. I just try to make it contagious. The kids were great. You can see the mix of kids. Some kids are maybe a little bit more ahead on others on the game, boys mixed with girls, but at the same time, we had great sessions and it was fun."