About a dozen young men are learning hockey from a pro at the Justice Ronald Lester Youth Centre in Thunder Bay.
John Chabot played for the Montreal Canadians, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL. Now he’s sharing his skills through Right to Play’s Hockey for Development program.
Chabot said his presence here sends a message to the teens he is training.
"There are people out there who are willing to take the time to see them," Chabot said while taking a break from running drills. "Not necessarily to improve them as a hockey player, but to come and visit with them and be with them. Unfortunately I don’t think a lot of them have had that."
Chabot is an Anishinabeg Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi First Nation in Quebec. Most of the young men in custody are from First Nations in northern Ontario. The fact that Chabot is one of "them" is especially important, according to the First Nation elder at the correction centre.
"To have Anishinabe role models come here and teach them, they’re empowered, they feel important, they feel proud of who they are as Anishinabe people," Esther Lachinette-Diabo said.
That sense of empowerment is key to the training, said Lauren Simeson, Right to Play’s Sport for Development Manager. The program aims to send the young men back to their communities with the skills to coach others.
"Hockey in the north is very informal," Simeson said. "There are not a lot of practice sessions where these kids are from, so providing them with a structured practice and helping them understand why structure is important … they’re really taking to it."
One youth, who cannot be identified under provisions in the Youth Justice Act, told CBC that he is excited to take the drills and coaching skills he is learning back home.
"I’ll be able to lead," he said. "And I’ll be able to teach younger kids how to be leaders."
Chabot said he’s happy to see the young men getting a shot at a different future.
"What these kids, no matter what their circumstances, have gone through and where they’ve ended up is not the last chapter of their lives," he said. "There are so many more chapters that could be written."