By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Saturday mornings will soon see the bleachers of the Ray McDonald Sports Centre full of parents, grandparents and other relatives enthusiastically watching children play hockey. But for three hours each Saturday what will set the players on the ice apart from many other teams that will occupy the rink that day and throughout the week is the range of ages and genders playing together on the ice.
The Morinville Mavericks FunTeam Hockey officially takes to the ice Oct. 13 in their sixth season in Morinville, a unique, dual gender, all ages program that continues to offer area children and their parents an alternative to the time and financial commitments that are, of necessity, a part of minor hockey. With a focus on fundamentals and fun, the Mavericks are having no problem finding participants.
Tim Quinn, one of the program’s volunteer coaches, said the program – started by Ray and Christa Meunier – has grown steadily over the past five seasons. In its inaugural year there were 14 children involved, a number that increased to 21 and 23 in the second and third years respectively. The last two years saw those numbers balloon to roughly 50 players.
The program has expanded so much that the Mavericks have had to book twice the amount of ice time for the past two season, giving younger an older players 90-minute sessions on Saturday.
“The program has grown every year since we started,” Quinn said. “This year we represent about 20 per cent of all the kids registered in hockey in Morinville. We’re pretty excited about that.
Quinn attributes the success to the shorter time commitment offered through the FunTeam concept. He says Mavericks alumni have gone on to play minor hockey in Morinville and some minor hockey players, looking for a little less of a time commitment, have come over to the Mavericks.
Focus on skills and fun
As in previous years, time is equally divided on Saturday morning between 45 minutes of skill building and the other half game time. All hockey activity takes place at the Ray McDonald Sports Centre, giving parents and their children an opportunity to play hockey each week without the need to travel. It is a recipe that has caused the program to increase participation by almost five times since beginning; each player looking to dine on what the FunTeam concept is dishing up – hockey skills, plenty of ice time, new friendships and most important of all – plenty of fun.
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“We’re still out there to offer a cost-effective alternative, and a time-effective program,” Quinn said. “If you want to play organized hockey but can’t make it commitment that is required from a minor hockey point of view, then were a good option.”
Still some room in the program
Quinn said the program has been incredibly successful with young players already this season but there is still some room in the program for children wishing to play.
One area of opportunity with the Mavericks is the older players. “We definitely want to try and appeal to some of the older kids, the 12 to 16, 17 ages, boys or girls,” Quinn said. “There’s probably a section of kids out there who played hockey but walked away from it for whatever reason. If they’re ever thinking of getting back in, here’s an opportunity with a once a week commitment.
“we’re trying to break down the stereotype that we kind of got labelled with where it’s not real hockey,” Quinn said, noting that has diminished considerably over the past six years the program has been running in town. “The coaches are very dedicated. The people that brought it to Morinville afre very dedicated. We’re creating a hockey atmosphere. There’s training and hockey drills. The rules are all the same. The equipment is all the same. The only difference is we’re not in a league. We’re playing inter-squad and it’s hockey. They call it FunTeam but it’s a lot of fun hockey.”
The Mavericks program runs from 8:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. for younger players and 9:45 a.m. until 11:15 a.m. each week. Cost of the program is $200 per player for the season with no fundraising work required. Registration for this season is currently underway. Those interested in taking part can call Tim Quinn at 780-939-5805 or Ray and Christa Meunier at 939-7141.