Head coach Dave Burke leads his Weiner Division (ages 5-7) players Josh Adamson (left to right), Josh Bradley, Ryder Burns, Will Adamson and Fergus Neave through a pre-game cheer.
The NHL has its Winter Classics attracting mega crowds. The Canadian pond hockey championships have been played for a decade in an Ontario resort community. And backyard rinks are a fashionable part of our sporting culture.
But the kids in the co-ed Outdoor Hockey Program in Carp go one better than the pros, pick-ups and backyarders.
They play their entire season — one game a week on a Saturday morning and one week-night practice for nine weeks — in the great outdoors, fighting the wicked wind chill and blowing snow, taking encouragement from their board-banging parents, and putting on their equipment in tiny dressing rooms or spilling into a lobby.
Their “competitive hockey,” which bends many traditional rules for the sake of flow and fun, is on a rink hosed down with well water by a group of three dedicated volunteers. Warren Lathem, who at 75 heads the consortium and has been making ice for 13 years, starts his daily shifts at 6:30 a.m, but on hockey Saturdays his crew is out there at 4:30 a.m.
Seven-year program convenor David Burke returned to the Outdoor Hockey Program’s top job this season, after a one-year break, and recruited 69 boys and 16 girls for a record eight Carp teams. Combined with teams from Fitzroy Harbour, Dunrobin and Constance and Buckham Bay, the rural teams play in the four divisions — Weiner (ages 5-7), Brats (8-9), Tweens (10-12) and Teens (13-15) — of the West Carleton Outdoor Hockey League, which has fewer rules than weather postponements, and no constitution.
“I do a vigorous ad campaign. People are fed up with indoor hockey, the expenses and the travel. People don’t know about it (outdoor hockey). They’re amazed organized outdoor hockey exists,” said Burke, who played in a Carp outdoor hockey league in the early 1970s.
Outdoor hockey in Carp started in the 1940s.
“It’s open to everyone. It’s totally Canadian. It’s low key, no pressure, no tryouts, no tournaments to attend. I can’t think of a parent who doesn’t think it’s an amazing program. It’s all about the premise of fun.”
The Outdoor Hockey Program fee is an affordable $70 a player plus $35 for an annual membership to the Huntley Community Association as well as a refundable $50 cheque deposit for a team jersey and socks. Besides ice time, the registration fee also includes a banquet and season-ending gift, which Burke co-ordinates.
Despite the cold, Burke said outdoor hockey is an attractive alternative.
“It’s co-ed, non-contact and non-competitive. You’re out in the cold hacking around and you have hot chocolate in the end,” said the head coach of the Weiner Division Carp squad that calls itself Team NHL.
But Burke, who is assisted by daughter and program graduate Jodi, goes one better than hot chocolate. Armed with a box of Fruit Loops cereal, he rewards his five- to seven-year-old players a few after each shift. At the end of Team NHL’s game last Saturday, Burke also continues his team tradition of a pancake lunch for the bunch.
If a visiting team is short a player or two, the team with the most players will make “a game-day loan” to balance the rosters.
There is no official scoresheet (but the players certainly know the score), no standings and no playoffs. When the season ends March 7, it’s simply thanks for playing, come to the banquet and see you next year.
Cathy Curry watched her four children play in the program over a 10-year span, calling it a great experience as her children not only played hockey, but also had enough family time to take up skiing.
“We didn’t get into the indoor hockey tryouts in August and February playoffs. That whole life of indoor hockey was not attractive to a family that also wanted to ski,” said Curry, the former Ottawa-Carleton District School Board chair.
“Outdoor hockey offers you that Canadian experience without hockey taking over your life.”
Martin Cleary’s High Achievers column appears bi-weekly in the Citizen. If you know an athlete, coach, team or builder you consider a high achiever, contact Martin at email@example.com.
Courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen: http://ottawacitizen.com/sports/local-sports/carps-outdoor-hockey-affordable-fun-and-fulfilling