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FEATURE: Giving back to hockey

McCauley Rink has become a staple to youth and family in Edmonton's inner city, thanks to a little help from some Oilers Alumni hands

by Meg Tilley / EdmontonOilers.com

Video: COMMUNITY | McCauley Cup

All you have to do is show up.

It's just that simple, according to Lyle 'Sparky' Kulchisky, a member of the Oilers Alumni, and Manager of McCauley Rink.

"We supply sticks, helmets, and gloves," said the Oilers former Equipment Manager. "[Kids and families] can come down here and are given all the opportunity they want to skate and play shinny (at no cost). They just have a place they can go to."

Nestled in the heart of the McCauley neighbourhood in downtown Edmonton, it's hard to believe that what was once a run-down, degenerative space is now the lively, family-friendly skate and pick-up hockey environment you see today.

"It started back nine or 10 years ago," said Al Hamilton of the Oilers Alumni.

"Ted Green, former Oilers coach, came to me and said that he and Father Jim Holland from Sacred Heart [Church] in the inner city had been talking and [felt] they needed a facility down there that was a safe place for kids to go to. There was a rink there, but it never had any amenities at all."

Having first opened an outdoor rink in 1990, the McCauley Community League (MCL), unfortunately, didn't have enough funds to maintain it.

"When I first went there, there were three people sleeping inside [the boards]," said Hamilton. "Everything was run down and there [weren't any] change facilities or anything…It was in fairly grim shape."

After a few continued conversations with Green and Holland, the McCauley Rink Project was born.

"That's kind of why we originally formed the [Oilers] Alumni Association," said Hamilton.

"It was to do different things in the community and support different [initiatives]. This one was a natural [project to embark on] because we're giving kids an opportunity to have fun and play some shinny. Some of the kids play organized hockey and are out there all the time, but for the most part, most of them wouldn't be able to afford it. This is kind of a neat opportunity for us to be involved in helping out and being a part of it."

Like a domino effect, the joint venture between the Oilers Alumni and MCL began to take shape, as one company after another donated materials, time and money to help bring the Oilers Alumni vision to fruition.

Hamilton spearheaded the project, and with the help of Green and Holland, raised nearly $200,000 to upgrade the rink, which went towards repaving asphalt and supplying equipment for the kids to enjoy activities their families may not otherwise be able to afford.

A donated retrofitted trailer now serves as a dressing room and washroom facilities that were desperately needed but noticeably absent.

"Through the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, we were able to access funding from Hockey Canada to [install] new boards - those went up just a few years ago," said Hamilton.

In need of a rink manager, Hamilton didn't hesitate in contacting his good friend, Kulchisky, in late January 2012, asking him to come take a look at the inner-city rink project, to see if he would be interested in filling the position.

"He had finished with his role with the Oilers, so he was looking for something to do - he was the perfect fit," said Hamilton.

Though Hamilton saw Kulchisky as the missing piece to the puzzle, Kulchisky admitted he was hesitant to take on the position.

"I didn't know how I was going to be with the kids and how they would be with me," he said. "You never want to go into a job when you don't know what to expect."

But during his first skating season on duty, Kulchisky got to see first-hand how important the rink was for the kids.

"Hockey has given a lot to us," said Kulchisky. "[The Oilers Alumni] want to give a little back to hockey, especially this kind of hockey. When I was growing up, there were hardly any indoor rinks...the outdoor rink was the hub of the community.

Today, McCauley Rink has become a staple to youth and families in the community.

"We have a hardcore group of 25 regulars - they don't come all at once every night - but 25 regular kids," said Kulchisky. "[Skating is] one of their activities, they're out there because it's very, very affordable to do. It's an open rink, we supply everything."

As the cold snap in Edmonton begins to thaw, Kulchisky said McCauley Rink will see the usual 25-40 visitors a night. But those numbers are nothing compared to the thousands that have already made it out to the well-loved "patch" of ice.

"This year has been unbelievable," said the Oilers former Equipment Manager. "We opened early, around November 7, right now over 1,200 people have come through our gates. Last year we did 1,700, this year, being open such a short time it's already been 1,200."

An annual Family Day Skate that's put on in partnership with the Community League draws hundreds of locals from the neighbourhood to partake in events such as skating and wagon rides.

"We have two or three big events a year," said Hamilton. "The biggest one's being Family Day and the McCauley Cup."

What started as an informal get-together between members of the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) and children from the McCauley neighbourhood has now become an annual organized event.

"There's usually around 40 to 50 policemen there," said Hamilton. "Some of them dress and play [shinny] in the afternoon with the kids. They pick teams that are mixed with kids and cops."

Created by the EPS Downtown Beat Division and the MCL to help foster a better relationship with the community youth, the annual tradition will take place this year on January 4 at 1pm.

"The whole purpose of the game is for the police and the kids to play together and form good relationships," said Hamilton.

"We, as the [Oilers] Alumni, are just supporting it.... This has been a really good [project] and we kind of hope to keep it going for quite a few years. It takes work but it's pretty heartwarming work."

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