By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – With the ice set to go back in the Ray McDonald Sports Centre next week, local hockey players of all ages and levels are checking their equipment and lacing up their skates in preparation for another season of minor hockey.
And while parents and fans will soon fill the bleachers to cheer on their favourite teams, one group of skaters will be cheered not for how well they are doing in the league standings but for how well they are learning the game and for how much fun they are having throughout the process.
Fun Team Hockey is back this fall for its fourth season in Morinville, offering area children and their parents an option to the time and financial commitments that are, of necessity, a part of minor hockey.
Tim Quinn, one of Fun Team’s volunteers said the program runs for two hours each Saturday and the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. ice time is divided equally between building hockey skills and applying them in game play situations. But unlike the region’s various minor hockey programs, Fun Team does not differentiate between age groups. The program is open to boys and girls aged 5 and above and everyone is on the ice together.
“The goal this year is to continue to grow the program,” Quinn said, adding that Fun Team Hockey is getting past the initial growing pains of recognition and acceptance in the community. “We seem to have a good base of young kids. We’d like to grow the older end of it so that our older kids that are in it have more kids to play against and challenge themselves with.”
Quinn said, although the program is happy to accept players of all ages, they would particularly like to appeal to the 12 to 14 year olds, showing them Fun Team is a viable option.
“We’re working really hard to break that stigma about not being real hockey,” Quinn said. “We have the same coaching. They’re going to get instruction on all different levels of it, from skating to puck skills – all of that. We break off and we play with the same rules that hockey has, but we simply play intra-squad as opposed to playing against other teams.”
But while there is no travelling to other areas to play and no visiting teams to ripple the mesh against, Quinn points out that Fun Team is not shinny. Rather, Quinn said the program is an organized, coached and controlled form of hockey without the cost and travel commitments of minor hockey.
With three successful years behind them, Quinn said Fun Team is past the learning curve of developing just how to deal with the broad age range of players on the ice and how to ensure that their skills are developed to the maximum while maintaining the program’s key mandate of having fun.
Quinn attributes the program’s success to Ray and Christa Meunier who had the foresight to start the program and remain active in Fun Team Hockey along with the program’s other dedicated volunteer parents.
That success is validated by the number of older players returning to the program from last year.
“Our older kids love it and they’re coming back,” Quinn said. “We’d just like to have some more kids of the same age levels so that we can get a little bit more competing. We’re just trying to make it as good as we can, and in order to make the product better, we need a few more kids.”
But while older children are needed to provide a challenge at their skill level, Quinn said Fun Team has no try outs and everyone gets a chance to play regardless of age and skill level. The goal is to increase the player’s skills so that their fun level increases along with it.
“It’s always more fun to do something when you have the ability to do it better,” Quinn said. “That’s our goal. We want to teach them to skate a little bit better; we want to teach them to stickhandle a little bit better, shoot a little bit better, pass a little bit better. That’s all we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to change them into Wayne Gretzky in one year. It’s a very passive approach.”
Quinn, who grew up in Morinville playing minor hockey was drawn to the program when his own son, who had no previous interest in the sport, got involved.
“He got interested when the Oilers went on the playoff run,” Quinn said, adding his son started the program late one year but has continued on ever since. “He’s the epitome of why you should play. He just loves it. He is soaking wet, sweating, but smiling the whole time.”
Quinn said his son, who is turning 14 this year, is typical of the other children in the program regardless of their age, displaying a love of the game that is seen through the smiles on their faces as they take to the ice. “You get the littlest ones out there and they’ll challenge you to a race,” Quinn said. “They’re just glowing; they’re so excited out there.”
Registration for this season which runs from October to May is Sept. 8 and 9 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the lobby at the Ray McDonald Sports Centre. Cost is $ 180.00 for the year. For more information call Ray and Christa Meunier at 780-939-7141 or Tim Quinn at 780-939-5804.