Reece DeJong never had a problem waking up early to play hockey.
For the past two-and-a-half months, DeJong was on the ice at 7 a.m. to skate in the 2013 Hockey For Everyone program at the Colin Campbell Community Arena in Tillsonburg.
“He was the one who woke me up,” said Reece’s father Wayne DeJong. “We usually got here a good half an hour early…”
“I like it,” nodded Reece, a fan of the NHL San Jose Sharks. “It was a lot of fun.”
Not just fun, it was ‘double the fun’ for the first-time goalie.
“He’s been out for every session,” said Kim Alexander, Club Oxford Hockey League president and coordinator of the annual Hockey for Everyone program, sponsored by this year by the Kinsmen Club of Tillsonburg and Club Oxford with support from other local sponsors including All Seasons Sports Exchange.
Reece, the only goalie for most of the Grade 3-7 introduction-to-hockey program, was able to attend both weekly sessions on Thursday and Friday mornings.
But that’s not why he picked the position.
“I knew I wanted to play hockey and I was just looking around thinking ‘what position I should play?’ Then I thought, ‘I like goalie.’ Also my cousin’s a goalie.”
“I think he likes the attention,” Wayne laughed. “Goalies get a little extra attention.”
Like the DeJongs, volunteer instructor Craig MacDougall agreed Hockey For Everyone was worth getting up early.
“Absolutely – it’s the most fun I’ve had in hockey,” said MacDougall, who’s son Patrick was also on the ice every week as an assistant instructor.
“We basically doubled it this year,” said MacDougall, noting Hockey For Everyone expanded from last year’s 25 kids, in Grades 4-6, to 49 this year in Grades 3-7.
“We had Grades 3-5 in one group and Grades 6-7 in the other group.”
“It’s been great, the kids have shown a dramatic improvement from Day 1,” said Alexander.
“Yeah, they’ve come a long, long way,” MacDougall nodded. “I think there’s a few who will join minor hockey next year.”
“I think if parents put them into three-on-three and maybe a power skating session this summer, they’ll be ready to go,” said Alexander.
For some, Hockey For Everyone provided an opportunity to try hockey without making an expensive, long-term commitment.
“Just to try out hockey,” said Alexander, “to put the money into equipment, to put money into registration fees, and then find out a month or two later your kid doesn’t like it… that’s an expensive ‘tryout.’
“This way they can try it at totally no cost. We cover the cost of equipment and ice time. It’s totally free. All they have to do is bring their children to the arena. And in some cases, if they don’t have a vehicle, then we can provide transportation too.
“They couldn’t say no,” he smiled.
“And of course they get to keep their equipment, too.”
The 2013 program will extend beyond the traditional 10-11 weeks in the form of subsidizing the cost of local three-on-three hockey.
“Half the cost, if any of these kids want to do three-on-three. There’s a girls-only three-on-three and co-ed three-on-three coming up next month. The cost of that is roughly $100 and we’re paying half of that.”
A crew of at least 10 people helped make Hockey For Everyone happen this year, said Alexander.
“We had skating coaches Penny (Jelsma) and Lindsay Tribble helping with the beginners. We’ve got teachers, Dan Dube and Craig MacDougall. Eric Britton’s been out for just about every session. Phil Gravelle’s been helping out with transportation. And of course we’ve had parents helping as well.”
Alexander is confident Hockey For Everyone will run again in 2014.
“And yes, we are looking for sponsors,” he smiled.
“Reece will be here again next year for sure,” said Wayne DeJong. “And maybe a goalie camp in the summer.”