When a group of novice hockey players step on the ice this October for their first shift, it will be as a result of strong community and corporate effort.
Powell River Minor Hockey Association director of operations Rick Hopper is coordinating the First Shift program, which introduces the sport of hockey to young boys and girls. Hopper said the First Shift program has been in place for “a good dozen years” and is offered by hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer.
“Bauer recognized quite a few years ago, along with Hockey Canada, that hockey was experiencing a decline in registration,” said Hopper. “Of course, being an equipment manufacturer, they thought they’d try to get at the grassroots of the sport and help promote it. They came up with the First Shift program and it’s been awesome.
“It has typically been run in conjunction with Hockey Canada and they usually have a large corporate sponsor for the program. It used to be Canadian Tire and it switched over to the NHL Players’ Association. They joined in two years ago.”
Hopper said that the minor hockey association partnered with the Powell River Regals to further solidify the program. The Regals provide finances and personnel to help the program.
Hopper said there is a fee of $99 per participant to sign up for First Shift. He said to further underwrite the program, the Regals have created the Regals’ legacy fund, which, for the past three years, has provided sponsorship and money.
“First Shift is such a cool thing,” said Hopper. “It is meant for kids who have never registered in minor hockey. We see kids who haven’t even skated. We take five- to eight-year-olds, and we have 35 spots available this year.
“For the cost of $99, they get a complete set of hockey equipment, brand new, and then they get professional instruction from myself and volunteer coaches who are certified through Hockey Canada. We organize it, we administer it, and we coach it. It’s such a great way to introduce kids to minor hockey. We get kids started off on the right foot. Our goal is to get kids passionate about hockey. We think that once we set the hook, they will continue to play and go into our regular programming for minor hockey.”
Hopper said First Shift is a standalone program for boys and girls, and is not integrated with the other Powell River Minor Hockey Association programming. He said he loves it because he gets to be the participants’ first hockey coach.
“The kids come to know me as ‘coach Hop’ and it has actually rejuvenated me because it takes me right down to the grassroots,” said Hopper. “You see these kids with big smiles on their faces, just learning how to skate. We softly introduce pucks into the situation. It’s just a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed it.
“From Powell River minor hockey’s perspective, we hope this program will enable us to rebuild our base numbers and introduce hockey to kids that may be typically never introduced to it.”
Hopper said First Shift participants are on ice once a week.
“We do a bunch of fun things with them as well,” said Hopper. “One of the most exciting events is when, once all the players are registered, Bauer ships all of the equipment into the Powell River Recreation Complex and they have what’s called the welcome event. Most of these kids have no idea of what is coming. It’s like Christmas. The kids walk out the door with everything – a brand new set of equipment – it’s unbelievable.
“The kids are just starstruck from start to finish.”
Hopper said the program starts in mid-October. The welcome event is October 13 and the First Shift program commences on October 15. He said there are still some spots available for young hockey aspirants. To register, adults can go to powellriverminorhockey.com and click on registration.
Tod English, president of the Powell River Regals, said sponsorship of First Shift is important to the team. He said that the Regals have been involved for the last half dozen years and have helped introduce dozens of youngsters to the game.
“We’re really excited that we’re able to do that,” said English. “We have a program called the Abundance Initiative that has funded this and has allowed us to look at different ways to help minor hockey, such as with our bus, which we provide to minor hockey for the rep teams.
“Young people in the community want to get their children involved in sports and we just thought it would be a great idea to help. It’s about inclusiveness and taking barriers away. One of the big barriers is money. The First Shift program is awesome because it gives players a nice, easy entrance into the sport. Minor hockey and Rick have been doing a phenomenal job.”
English said when prospective players are very young, they shouldn’t have to think about anything other than having fun and being on the ice.
The community has a strong hockey legacy, with the Regals having won national championships, and some players from here have gone on to play in the NHL. First Shift is a great vehicle to provide children an opportunity to enjoy the sport and prospectively, to join the Kings or the Regals in the future, according to English.
For the Regals, sponsorship of the First Shift program is all about giving back, said English.