The sounds of children’s voices are ever-present in the Stettler Recreation Centre this week as the annual East Central Hockey School returns to teach basic hockey skills.
The school focuses on teaching boys and girls between the ages of six and 14 individual hockey skills, so that when they go on to play in minor hockey this year, those skills come together with those of other players to make a strong team.
And it’s been working, according to Jason Hegberg, one of the school organizers. A former junior-level hockey player himself, Hegberg is also president of the Stettler Minor Hockey League and a hockey parent.
“All of us do this because we want to see the kids improve and have fun,” he said in between skills classes, referring to the 23 different instructors who take time off work to come and help teach. Some of the teachers in the school are the same teachers who taught Hegberg when he was a child, he said.
“(Doug Blaney) is 68 years old and he can skate better than anyone on the ice,” Hegberg said of the power skating instructor.
Skills lessons range from skating to stick handling, and there’s both on-ice and dryland training involved in the school.
One of the key elements of the school is discipline. Hegberg said he believes learning discipline now will only help the young hockey players in the future, so all students adhere to a set of rules and a specific schedule, and find themselves with a penalty if they don’t adhere.
“When we first started this school, the mentality was to (have students) learn about and reinforce lessons in respect, responsibility and discipline,” Hegberg explained. If students learn those lessons, they’ll work together with their teammates on the things the school doesn’t teach, like hockey strategy.
Of the 135 kids registered in the school this year, 26 are girls, and the number continues to go up every year.
“Female attendees are growing every year,” Hegberg noted. “It’s representative of the growth in minor hockey. The girls learn the exact same skills as the boys and are treated exactly the same as the boys, and that’s the way it should be.”
Hegberg said the rise of girls in minor hockey hasn’t entirely translated into junior levels, but he said he believed the day was coming when hockey would become increasingly co-ed, especially in the minor levels.
Minor hockey tryouts will begin in early September, with teams being formed and exhibition games starting in early October.