New low barrier hockey program starts at two Thunder Bay, Ont., elementary schools

Kids at two Thunder Bay, Ont., schools will have the chance to try hockey for the first time this year thanks to First Shift, a Hockey Canada program.

By providing free equipment and using the time and resources provided by the school kids who wouldn't other w

Kids at two Thunder Bay elementary schools will have a chance to play organized hockey, thanks to a Hockey Canada program.

Kids at two local schools in Thunder Bay, Ont., will have the chance to try hockey for the first time this year.

First Shift, a Hockey Canada program, gives kids six to 10-years-old, who have never played hockey, a chance try the sport. The program has partnered with both McKellar Park Central School and Ogden Community Public School in the northwestern Ontario city.

"Hockey Canada wanted to support schools that probably wouldn't get the opportunity to play an organized sport," said Joanne Giertuga, the principal of McKellar Park school.

Kids from the grade 4 and 5 classes at McKellar and grades 4 to 8 at Ogden will take part in the program. First Shift, which is sponsored by Canadian Tire and Bauer, will supply 15 kids from each school with the equipment needed to play.

Each kid is allocated $200 for the equipment that was donated by community sponsors. However, the remaining students who want to participate in the program are not provided equipment by First Shift.

"We couldn't just pick 15 kids because they all wanted to participate," said Giertuga.

The schools are looking for community sponsors and people to donate equipment for the approximately 30 remaining kids.

Joe Gaudreau, an organizer with the First Shift program, is helping find sponsors for the equipment. He said that to outfit a child in hockey equipment can cost up to $800, and more to enrol in organized hockey.

"By giving them the equipment we are hoping the parents then ... next year will put them in an organized hockey league," said Gaudreau.

An opportunity 'not a lot of our students have'

The point of the program is to make playing organized hockey as low-barrier as possible. By providing free equipment and using the time and resources provided by the school, kids who wouldn't other wise play have a chances to be involved.

"It's an opportunity that not a lot of our students have in their family lives that we are able to provide to them," said Andrea Pugliese, the principal at Ogden school.

The program will run until April and will teach students hockey skills like skating, stick handling and putting on equipment.

The schools will practice at Fort William Gardens on separate days, once-a-week during school hours. They will have 30 hours of free ice time provided by the city.

The practices will be taught by teachers that are certified hockey coaches. Community volunteers from the educational program at Lakehead University, community police officers and hockey players from the local high schools will also help out.

Both elementary schools are hoping to get the students on the ice by mid-October but will have to get the equipment for the remaining students to do that.

"If we continue to get support from the community and the businesses in the community then we can expand it and make it even bigger," said Gaudreau.