After four years of teaching hockey classes at Carlton Comprehensive High School, teacher Mark Odnokon and principal Dawn Kilmer wanted to expand the program. Following discussions with Riverside Community School, they formed a partnership that would allow students ages 10-14 to enroll in Carltonâs hockey class. There was just one thing missing.
© Daily Herald photo by Jason Kerr.
Carlton Comprehensive High School teacher Mark Odnokon displays one the posters for the schoolâs hockey class.
âWe just really need some equipment,â Kilmer says. âThatâs whatâs getting in the way of those kids trying hockey.â
Enter Major Glenn Patey and the Salvation Army. Patey, a former player and minor hockey coach, was notified of the dilemma by a third party, and he quickly stepped up to help. In less than a day, the Salvation Army, along with some other private donors, came forward with the equipment.
âI know the cost factor,â says Patey, whose son also played hockey. âI know that a lot of parents canât afford what it takes to put their children into organized sports. This is an opportunity for us to be able to help.â
This isnât the first time the Salvation Army has stepped forward like this. Theyâve outfitted other schools with equipment and they frequently give skates away to minor hockey players who canât afford them. What theyâre giving to Carlton and Riverside isnât ratty either.
âItâs always in pretty good shape,â Patey says. âI mean, some of itâs brand new. Itâs not even out of the packaging. Parents buy stuff for their kids and the kids have no interest (in hockey) or itâs too small and they donât take it back to the store. Sometimes itâs a bit older. It might be eight to 10 years old, but itâs still in pretty good shape.â
Almost any equipment would work for the program, so the fact that itâs in good shape is a bonus. Whatâs more important is giving opportunities to kids who wouldnât normally have them, allowing them to learn life skills playing a game they love.
âOur key word is getting out of your comfort zone,â says Odnokon, a former Prince Albert Raiders player and assistant coach. âI donât know if itâs something with their social environment or what, but we have to get them to try new things.â
Kilmer calls Riverside school a ânatural fitâ for the program. She says she knew they would appreciate the opportunity after Riverside teachers told her how much their students loved skating.
âA caretaker there takes care of one of the outdoor rinks in town and the kids were always asking when the snow was going to be cleared away so they could skate.â
The schools were unsure about securing funding, which created the need for donations. Hockey Canada Skills Academy provides the school with training and other resources, but not equipment. Odnokon says they are in a unique situation, running a program that only a handful of other schools in Saskatchewan are trying.
âWeâve just kind of put our foot through the door here and hopefully we can give (the students) an opportunity,â he says.
Even though the on-ice segment is what draws students in, the hockey class features an off-ice component as well. Students learn a little about hockey history, as well as nutrition, mental training and tactics. There is even a âDon Cherryâ segment where students are required to research one hockey issue and argue for or against it, like no-touch icing or an omission from Canadaâs Olympic team.
Odnokon also brings in guest speakers, like Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League president Bill Chow.
These off-ice sessions are extremely popular with students, but the on-ice component is what they are there for.
âWeâve got three kids who havenât skated before and theyâve been out this year,â Odnokon says. âThese guys wonât play hockey for a living, but they love the game and weâve opened some doors for them.â
Giving chances to kids who canât afford to play organized hockey is important, but itâs not the only benefit the class offers. Itâs also a mentorship program.
âThe students who weâve taught some of these skills to are now going to be on the other end of it,â Odnokon explains. âTheyâll be doing the teaching, theyâll be doing the instructing and helping the kids out, so itâs going to be beneficial for our kids in the hockey class and also the ones coming up from Riverside.â
Thatâs not the only type of mentorship Riverside students will get. Odnokon gets plenty of help from more established hockey players in the city, like Leon Draisaitl of the Raiders. He also gets help from Carlton students who play for the Mintos and Bears.
However, itâs difficult for this to happen without equipment. The Salvation Army and the other private donors deserve some applause, but Patey downplays their involvement.
âIt was given to us, so weâre just giving it to them,â he says with a chuckle. âBasically weâre the middle man.â
However, Kilmer isnât so sure.
âNot everyone can afford hockey equipment. They donât get a chance to spend time with a coach like Mark and improve,â she says. â(The donation) speaks volumes about our community. Thatâs just how Prince Albert is.â