The Calgary Flames Sports Bank and the National Native Sport Program have teamed up to provide new equipment to on-reserve minor hockey players in Saskatchewan.
During the Daniels Hockey School camp in Warman, Sask., families received application forms in order to retrieve the gear that was still in the plastic this fall.
The program has already been implemented in Alberta, but this is the first time it is being used in Saskatchewan.
The Daniels camp is run by current Harvard University women’s hockey team assistant coach Sydney Daniels, her cousin Colby Daniels who also played at the university level in the U.S. and her father and former NHL player Scott Daniels.
The Daniels family is from Mistawasis First Nation and uses the camp to share their passion for hockey with kids living on reserves.
“They don’t have to be the best hockey players. We just want them to come and have fun and know that sport can be a vehicle for opportunity as well,” Sydney said.
The camp started five years ago where they had fewer than 50 kids sign up.
It has since grown to several hundred and has many families returning every year, like Kimberly Greyeyes.
She said some of her children hadn’t been introduced to hockey, but the Daniels family was patient with her son to the point where he is comfortable skating and playing as a goalie.
“More often than not when you go into any other camp and you’re a peewee, you’re not so easily encouraged. Here, it doesn’t matter your skill level. They include everybody,” Greyeyes said.
The push for this program came when the National Native Sport Program worked with the NHL’s diversity team.
However the program sees this as just the start for what can take place in Indigenous communities.
Many of the families are used to hand-me-downs when it comes to equipment for kids.
Because of the cost of equipment and league fees, Greyeyes said some of her children couldn’t begin playing organized hockey until they were older.
Organizers hope that having access to this new equipment would increase children’s self-esteem and inspire them to continue playing the sport.
Colby, who is a councillor on Mistawasis First Nation and knows the financial circumstances of some of the community’s youth, said, “It’s not easy and a lot of people wouldn’t believe it.”
“We’re not attempting to make these youngsters feel superior. We’re just trying to level the playing field for them — let them come in and be kids.”