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. 1 in their fifth 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. Last year saw that number balloon to almost double at 43 children. Quinn said 14 new children registered at the Active Living Fair held in Morinville Sept. 8 and he anticipates by the beginning of the season to have in excess of 50 children taking part this year.
The program has expanded so much that the Mavericks have had to book twice the amount of ice time, giving younger an older players 90-minute sessions on Saturday. Last year the Mavericks split the arena in half, giving each age grouping a half rink to play on. This year’s increase in rink time will give the players a full rink to work with, but the two divisions will carry over into each other’s time slot allowing the older and younger children to have ice time together, something Quinn said is part of the appeal of the program.
“There’s so much support among the kids for each other,” Quinn said, adding there is no pressure and no one is down on anyone else. Older players often kneel down to play at a five-year-old’s level. “You come home every Saturday feeling pretty good. It’s almost like going back to those early hockey days where you were just out there because you wanted to be out there.”
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.
Part of that fun is making players feel good about learning the game of hockey. In addition to acquiring new jerseys for the players last year, the Mavericks have recently purchased goalie equipment for younger and older players in order to give those who want to take a shift between the pipes the opportunity to do so.
Four years into the program as a coach, Quinn, who played minor and junior hockey in Morinville, is still getting a great deal of enjoyment out of participating in the Mavericks. “It’s extremely rewarding just watching the kids out there,” Quinn said. “In this particular program they’re coming out just because they want to play. This program is structured just to come out and have fun and get on the ice and play. It just brings out a certain attitude in the kid.”
The Mavericks program runs from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each week. Cost of the program is $180 per player for the season. Registration for this season takes place Sept. 22 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Morinville arena.