Families received application forms during the Daniels Hockey School camp in Warman, Sask., in order to get the gear still in the plastic this fall.
The program has operated in Alberta, but this is the first time it has been brought to 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.
“And where do we go from here? Well I think the simplest answer is to keep pushing for these initiatives plus address life off the ice for these youth,” president and founder Warren Crowchild told Global News.
Many of the families are used to hand-me-downs when it comes to equipment for kids.
Greyeyes said some of her children weren’t able to start playing organized hockey until they were a bit older just because of the expense for equipment and league fees.
Organizers hope access to this new equipment offers a self-confidence boost and encourages kids to continue playing the sport.
“It’s not easy and a lot of people … they wouldn’t believe it,” Colby said, noting he’s a councillor on Mistawasis First Nation and he knows the financial situation of some of the youth in the community.
“We’re not trying to make these kids feel like they’re better. We’re just trying to give them a level playing field — let them come in and be children.”