A group of Indigenous kids from Vancouver Island will be geared up and hitting the ice in prime time this winter thanks to support from the City of Nanaimo, community sponsors and volunteers.
The Salish Storm, a volunteer-run organization in partnership with Kw'umut Lelum Child and Family Services, is dedicated to making hockey more accessible to Indigenous youth on Vancouver Island. This winter, they will be at Frank Crane Arena on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. PT, says volunteer coach Tim Harris.
Harris, who is from the Stz'uminus First Nation, says landing the coveted time slot at the massive arena is "like waking up on Christmas morning."
"We had ice time in Parksville a couple of years ago and it was at, like, 8 p.m. at night, we could hardly get kids there," Harris said.
The kids have already received a warm reception.
"Just last week at our session, the [British Columbia Hockey League's Nanaimo] Clippers played a pre-season game right after us and they let us stay and watch. It just takes a community to help raise our kids and we're definitely seeing that here in the City of Nanaimo and seeing that support for our program," he said.
Beloved sport, expensive endeavour
Despite its beloved cultural status and popularity in Canada, rising costs have made ice hockey inaccessible for many children and communities. Expensive gear, high transportation costs and inconvenient ice times are challenges for many families, Harris says.
"To play the sport of hockey it's anywhere between $400 to $500 to suit up ... and then you've got your fees, and then you've got the travel on top of that, and so you know, it's quite pricey for our families that are still dealing with a lot of poverty issues within our nations," he said.
Luckily, sponsors have stepped forward to support the team for the cost of some of their gear. The coaches have all volunteered their time.
But Harris says it's not necessarily about training the next Carey Price as much as it is about developing other kinds of skills and bonds.
"For me it's about giving them something to do, pushing themselves, learning something, socializing, making new friends, building up their self-esteem ... but also knowing that they have people out there that actually care about them," he said.
"Hockey is basically a vehicle to get all that stuff that we're actually wanting."