NHL goalie James Reimer partners with town to make kids hockey affordable

Manitoba-born goalie James Reimer is helping give back to Arborg, Man., a community that helped propel him to the NHL.

Manitoban NHL-er helps fund new program in Arborg, Man. for minor hockey players aged 4-7

NHL goalie James Reimer is helping fund an affordable hockey program for kids in Arborg, Man., the same town where he played minor hockey. (The Associated Press)

Manitoba-born goalie James Reimer is helping give back to Arborg, a community that helped propel him to the NHL. 

Reimer, a former Maple Leafs player who now plays with the Florida Panthers, is from a town just 17 kilometres northwest of the town.

However, growing up Reimer played minor hockey in Arborg and with his financial help, kids aged 4 to 7 of all backgrounds will now get the chance to learn how to play just like him. 

"He started off his minor hockey career right here in our town of Arborg in the same arena as all the other kids here," said Tom Chwaliboga, director of recreation for the Arborg-Bifrost Parks and Recreation Commission.

"We're proud to call him a hometown boy."

A photo shows James Reimer (centre) with his pee wee team. (courtesy Arborg-Bifrost Parks and Recreation Commission)

Chwaliboga said the town wanted to give families a risk-free way to find out if their kids were interested in hockey.

"As everybody knows, hockey isn't exactly the least expensive sport to play," he said.

Hockey equipment for kids ranges from $200 to $350 per child  and hundreds more for goalie equipment. The cost is high enough to discourage some parents from enrolling their kids, especially for families who are not already involved in hockey, said Chwaliboga.

The new program, which has yet to have an official name, will pay for a child's equipment and subsidize fees.

Kids will be able to keep their helmets, which they can adjust as they grow older, but they will return the other equipment— like skates and pads — at the end of the year so future kids can use them.

"It will be a sustainable program, not just a one year or two year program," said Chwaliboga. "We really think this is something that will be successful."

Appeal to newcomers

Arborg and surrounding communities are home to many newcomers, Chwaliboga said. At least one Syrian refugee family has expressed an interest in enrolling some of their kids into hockey.

"We know there's lot of kids in the area and families in the area that may not know a lot about hockey," said Chwaliboga. "The is one of the ways of opening the doors for them."

Hockey is the lifeblood of Arborg and the affordable program may help families get to know one another, Chwaliboga added.

"Families meet families, people meet people, kids meet kids, and lifelong friendships are made from the game of hockey," he said.

The eight-week program will cost families about $30, said Chwaliboga, and kids will have the chance to learn hockey skills from trained coaches. He also promised it will be fun.

"Hopefully we just get a bunch of kids skating out there and enjoying the game of hockey."

One of Reimer's hockey jerseys is framed on the walls of the Arborg Recreation Centre. (courtesy Arborg-Bifrost Parks and Recreation Commission)

With files from Janice Grant