Sports Hockey

Snowdogs inspire team spirit for special needs players 0

By Nicki Cruickshank, Barrie Examiner

Ed Hunter, front left, is one of the new faces behind the Innisfil Snowdogs, a hockey team for special needs kids in the area. Huskies Nikka, left, and Toro were on hand for a team meeting Monday evening. IAN MCINROY PHOTO

Ed Hunter, front left, is one of the new faces behind the Innisfil Snowdogs, a hockey team for special needs kids in the area. Huskies Nikka, left, and Toro were on hand for a team meeting Monday evening. IAN MCINROY PHOTO

Connor Stockley loves to lace up and hit the ice.

But, what he loves more is having a team full of special needs players just like him that can see past his disorder.

“I just like hockey. It’s fun and going to the tournaments is fun, too,” said the 14-year-old from Innisfil, who has autism spectrum disorder, and is the newest member of the Innisfil Snowdogs. “It’s a great team and we love to travel together. The other players are so good to me, and some are already my friends.”

All the 35 hockey players on the team want is to play the game and feel like they belong.

And that’s the kind of opportunity the Snowdogs provides them with.

The Snowdogs, established in 2006 by Rob and Jane Chapman, is a special needs hockey team that’s unique in its very nature.

“It’s such an amazing program that does so much for them and their social skills,” said Denise Mikiver, who has joined the team’s administration staff. “Once they all have their helmets and jerseys on, they’re all the same.

“What’s also unique about us is registration is always open. We’ll never turn a player away who wants to sign up,” she added. “We accept players all through the year and it gives them all equal opportunity, especially those who hear about us later, or just move to town and want to join.”

The team’s 2012-2013 registration day is Oct. 13 at the Innisfil YMCA at 10:15 a.m.

Home games and practices are played every Saturday at that location, as well.

The annual fee is $200, which includes a jersey, socks and admission to team parties and tournaments.

The team is open to anyone from Barrie, Innisfil and surrounding areas, ages five and older living with any developmental disability.

“We have four or five coaching staff on the ice or on the bench at all games, which is another plus,” said Ed Hunter, who’s taking on coaching duties. “What’s also great about this team is it’s the only team they’ll ever have to sign up for. They don’t have to leave the team because they’re a certain age, or skill level.”

The Snowdogs do have a junior and senior division, but it’s based on each player’s level of skill, not age.

Hunter said a Barrie special needs hockey team does exist, but it’s under the umbrella of Barrie Minor Hockey, and plays by BMH rules and doesn’t offer year-round registration.

“Our rules are very different,” Hunter said. “You’ll never see stats printed in the newspaper from our team. We don’t really keep score, because it’s not about that.

“We don’t pay attention to the time clock during the games, either. It’s about them having

fun and that’s the only reason we’re there.”

“You never want to embarrass or discourage a player. We want to put smiles on their faces, and we teach them they have to share the puck,” added Jim Linn, who’s also a coach. “If a player scores a goal but didn’t pass the puck at all, that goal doesn’t count.”

Linn said the team also has some used equipment available in case a less fortunate potential player wants to join the team but can’t afford gear.

Employment opportunities have the Chapmans moving out of town, and Hunter and Mikiver will help to fill their shoes.

“We’d like to thank Rob and Jane for starting this team six years ago, so there would be something for special needs kids in our area,” Hunter said.

Hunter and Mikiver are passionate about the team because they’ve seen the positive experiences their own sons have had as players.

“It’s unbelievable to watch these kids on the ice, and watch how they grow and improve their skills,” Mikiver said. “My son Alex is autistic, and he went to watch Ed’s son Matthew play and got interested, so we signed him up. Over the course of that first season, his skills and his confidence improved. In four years, he’s at senior level now.”

Hunter’s experience was the same with his 19-year-old son.

“This is my fifth season being involved, and I saw this team on the news once and didn’t realize we had anything like it in this area,” he said. “I asked Matthew if he wanted to play and signed him up. Being around his teammates is key for him. He loves hockey but it’s more about being around his peers.”

For those interested in joining the Snowdogs, call Denise at 705-726-2107, or send e-mail to mikiver@rocketmail.com. You can also check out the website at www.innisfilsnowdogs.com.

nichole.cruickshank@sunmedia.ca

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