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This article was published 21/12/2011 (2917 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Deanndre Richard-Thomas’s eyes lit up when his mom told him there was a special present waiting for him at hockey practice last week.
Richard-Thomas and the rest of the 88 youngsters who take part in the North End Hockey Program were treated to brand new Shockwave composite sticks from Howitzer Hockey on Dec. 15 at Old Exhibition Arena.
"It’s pretty cool to get a brand new hockey stick," said the nine-year-old Point Douglas resident, who plays for the Norquay Knights as part of the second-year program.
The sticks, valued at $70 each, were a gift from the Ottawa-based company. Co-owner Devon Rutherford said Howitzer has a commitment to donating sporting equipment to underprivileged children on a one-for-one basis for every stick it sells.
In the past, that’s meant shoes for an orphanage in Haiti, and soccer balls for children in Colombia and Vietnam.
After seeing a feature on the NEHP on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada last winter, Rutherford decided it would be the perfect place to make the company’s first domestic donation.
"The mentality and the mission (of the program) is exactly why we’re in business," he said. "It made sense to work with them, because this is exactly what we’re trying to achieve."
After a successful first season with 58 participating kids in 2010-11, the NEHP is up to 88 players on five teams this year. The youngest players, aged five and six, play in a Timbits league, while novice, minor atom, atom and peewee teams play in city-wide A3 leagues under the Norquay banner.
"This is so exciting for these guys," said Tammy Christensen, executive director of the Ndinawe social agency, which runs the program. "The idea behind the program is to provide all the things that would otherwise keep kids from participating in hockey."
Christensen said providing equipment, registration and transportation for a full season of hockey can cost up to $1,000 per player, depending on their age. The NEHP has been able to raise enough money through grants and donations to cover all costs so far.
"A good portion of the players from last year have come back," she said. "It’s nice to see them participating again. We hope to carry on with them through to high school."
The kids have shown remarkable improvement not just on the ice, but in their day-to-day lives, Christensen said.
"We’ve seen positive changes with behaviour, and being able to interact with others," she said. "It’s exciting to see."
Richard-Thomas starting playing ball hockey with his mom as soon as he could walk, but didn’t have a chance to strap on skates and join a team until the NEHP came along. He says his favourite part of the game is "all of it," and he’s already planned out his future in the sport.
"I want to be in the NHL," he said. "I want to play for the Jets."