They had already paved the way for kids facing financial and social obstacles to play hockey, but volunteers at the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society wondered if they could do more for other kids who also had never been given the chance to play the sport.
“We discovered — really quite by accident — a couple of years ago that there was nowhere for kids who are living with physical and cognitive challenges to play the game of hockey in Western Canada,” said HEROS executive director Kevin Hodgson.
“So we had to decide either we were going to sit and wait for somebody else to do it, or we were going to do it ourselves.”
The answer came quite quickly and in 2018, under the HEROS umbrella, a pilot project dubbed SuperHEROS was launched.
“I think the game was expecting them to adapt to fit the game and somebody needed to adapt the game to fit the kids, and so we were able to do that,” Hodgson said.
Now, in its second full year, there are 100 kids representing two teams in Calgary, and one each in Edmonton and Regina.
“Harrison didn’t even know how to skate when he started, and now he’s a hockey player,” said SuperHEROS parent Kris Markin, whose son Harrison joined a Calgary team this year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players could no longer gather for their weekly on-ice sessions so they instead started meeting regularly for online video workouts and hangouts.
HEROS mentors have also managed to wrangle a number of current and former National Hockey League players and personalities to join them in their weekly online get-togethers.
“The reality is, these kids aren’t going to let us stop doing this, even though next year we might be all back together,” Hodgson laughed. “They’re gonna skate together and then they’re going to go home and say, ‘So what time do I get on my computer so we can hang out?'”
Online or in person, the program has been a success for players and parents alike.
“I mean, when you get a child with autism that you get to look you in the eye and have a conversation, it might be the first time that they’ve done that because that’s not something they’re comfortable with,” Hodgson explained.
He said that he and many others in the 100 per cent volunteer-run program underestimated the impact the program would have.
“We thought we would provide a great opportunity for the kids, but you know, there hasn’t been a week of SuperHEROS where we haven’t had crying moms and dads because of what this means for their kids and their families,” Hodgson said.