Eli Redeye fell in love with hockey at a young age despite not having access to ice. Redeye recalls regular trips up north to watch his cousins play in travel tournaments, a family affair that took him to rinks throughout Ontario and Quebec.
"When the boys weren't playing hockey, we were upstairs in their loft playing hockey with taped up socks," Redeye said. "I don't know how many socks they've lost throughout the years."
Redeye shared his story as he overlooked the ice at LECOM Harborcenter on Thursday, where his seven-year-old son Vaughn was participating in a Buffalo Sabres Learn to Play program led by former Sabres forward Cody McCormick.
Vaughn was one of 35 children from the Seneca Nation of Indians who received a full set of equipment thanks to a $10,000 donation from Enterprise in partnership with the NHL. The children were invited to LECOM Harborcenter for an introductory Learn to Play course, with plans to continue the program at the Cattaraugus Community Center on the Seneca Territory in the fall.
The construction of the 92,000 square foot community center in 2011 offered Vaughn an entry point to the game that Eli was missing growing up. The donation from Enterprise and accompanying Learn to Play program was designed to offer another entry point for Seneca children, allowing families to test their interest without the worry of lofty equipment prices.
Jayde Stevens attended the session with her six- and five-year-old sons, Curtis and Cyrus. The two had become Sabres fans from attending games but had only dabbled in skating prior to Thursday.
"We want to make sure this is something they want do before making the commitment and all the purchasing of the equipment and everything," Stevens said. "And we have two boys, so you have to purchase two of everything. It was nice getting the equipment so they can try it out and see if it's something they want to continue doing. That really helped."
Kevin Brooks took up playing hockey at age 46, when the Cattaraugus Community Center was built. The hockey bug spread to his grandson, who now plays travel hockey along with lacrosse and golf. Brooks said other Seneca children have followed suit, playing for travel teams in Fredonia and West Seneca.
"It's a handful of our kids," he said. "This would make it more accessible to them, to have the equipment to start and see where it goes. See how far it takes them."
Brooks was attending the Learn to Play session with his younger grandson, Lincoln.
"This is an awesome program," he said. "It's really good for them. And you don't know where they can go. You have the Pat Kanes and the Kaletas, they're all local boys. It takes work, no doubt. It takes work and a lot of dedication, but this is a start."