Canadian Hockey A Culture Beacon

Hockey is our national sport. The game is invariably tied to our collective senses of what it means to be Canadian, and is perhaps our most identifiable icon. As an immigrant, especially one of Asian descent, I’d never thought that one day we would become Hockey Parents. Our son Justin, now 9 years old, developed his passion for hockey at the age of 5. He has never missed a practice or game even if it means he has to get up at 5 A.M. every Saturday or Sunday morning.

On Halloween night last year during trick-or-treating, Justin fell and had a deep cut in his knee which needed 15 stitches. He was advised by the doctor to stay off hockey for at least a week, but right on that day, he asked for permission to play the game next day. I told him he must follow the doctor’s order. He then asked for permission to put on his uniform to sit on the bench with his team in order to show support and team spirit. At that moment, we knew that Justin had also developed sportsmanship and team-building skills. In the last 2 years of competitive Hockey with the Mississauga Hockey League (MHL), and with guidance from truly devoted coaches, Justin’s team has won a gold medal in the Minor Novice age group (7 years old), a silver medal in the Novice age group (8 years old), and Justin also earned a sportsmanship award for himself.

Justin has recently been selected to be on Minor Atom (9 years old) AAA Mississauga Senators Hockey team this coming season. Life has been extremely busy for us, managing time between work and trying to fit hockey schedule for Justin in our weekly timetable, but my husband has told me once that one day in the future, if we don’t get to drive Justin to hockey anymore, we will dearly miss these precious bonding times between us and our son.

To help you understand more about the Minor Hockey system in Canada, I had a chance to speak to coach Chris Stevenson, who shared some insight about hockey for kids, from his experience as a 7 year AAA hockey player, 5 year Junior A and B hockey player, and now, as a coach.

He is the 2014 MHL (Mississauga Hockey League) Novice Gold Coach, and has been a GTHL(Greater Toronto Hockey League) AAA Coach for the past 6 seasons with the Mississauga Senators.

Chris-Stevenson

Mr. Stevenson shares:

Hockey was not a sport that ran in my family or in my blood like many Canadians. As a son of parents born and raised in Ireland, my parents were more familiar with soccer (“football” as they would say), rugby and field hockey. As newcomers to Canada, they tried introducing me to soccer, but it wasn’t the sport for me. They saw a game on TV called “ice hockey” and watched the neighborhood children playing it on the streets. I wish I could tell you that the second I stepped on the ice I loved the game, however skating is not exactly an intuitive skill and it takes a lot of practice.

While many first generation Canadians are unfamiliar with hockey, and it is considered native to many northern countries, I believe the game will continue to grow both in Canada and globally. Many people believe they need to take up sports that their families are familiar with, however, this is far from the case. No one in my family had played hockey before me. Like any sport, love of the game is not the only thing hockey gave me. Through being a part of a team from such a young age, I learned a great deal outside of hockey such as social skills, leadership, friendship, teamwork and confidence. I learned to keep my nose clean, listen to my coaches, listen and use constructive criticism and most importantly, to work hard and never give up.

There are two broad groupings of skill levels: competitive and non-competitive in minor hockey. House league/recreation hockey is considered as non-competitive hockey and focuses on learning and having fun while playing the game of hockey. AAA, AA and A minor hockey (starting at 9 years old) are nationally recognized as competitive levels of organized hockey with AAA being highest caliber and elite competition.

Hockey is considered to be an expensive sport (especially at the AAA level).  However, there are also more affordable avenues of hockey. For example, in the MHL (Mississauga Hockey League) there are introductory programs in place for paperweights (ages 4-6) that cost under $500 for the season. As children get older, there continue to be different options. The OMHA (Ontario Minor Hockey Association) and GTHL (Greater Toronto Hockey League) are the two most popular leagues for AAA and AA but the MHL and NYHL (North York Hockey League) have ‘A’ and house league levels for all age groups.

To register for House League hockey, you can contact the MHL or NYHL to find out more. For the higher competitive levels you can access tryout information on the GTHL or OMHA websites. Other than registration fees, the most common extra costs parents need to consider are equipment and extra skill development outside of regular hockey. Aside from cost, parents considering entering their child into competitive hockey or for those with a child considering hockey as their career, can expect to spend five to ten hours per week at the rink, not including commuting time. Time and money aside, should your child want to succeed in competitive hockey and advance as far as possible, they need to be equipped to deal with obstacles and adversity along the way.

Another major concern many parents have with hockey is safety. I cannot tell you that your child will never be injured, as is the case in any sport, but I can say that contact (body checking) has been taken out of all lower levels of hockey and does not enter the higher levels now until 13 years old. This has allowed for more focus to be put on skill development and allows players to develop for many years before they decide if they want to continue at the highest levels where the physical aspect of the game is implemented.

The most important advice I could give for parents of any aspiring hockey player is that it is not a race to be the best. Gradual skill development, willingness to learn, and maintaining passion are the keys to success. If anything is taken from my words, I hope that it is to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid you’ll get hurt, don’t be afraid it’s too expensive and most importantly, don’t be afraid to be the first one in your family to play the game. You can be the one to make this great sport a tradition in your family.

Through these words of advice by Coach Stevenson, I encourage all parents to let your kids explore hockey, or any sport; and with the help of passionate and professional coaches, it is one of the best ways to help children develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

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