By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – The Timmins Rock brought smiles to the faces of close to 100 youngsters at the Daystar Hockey Clinic early Saturday morning.
Youngsters showing up for their weekly hockey session at the Whitney Arena were excited to learn their tutelage would include instruction from a handful of Rock players fresh off a 5-4 victory over the Eskis in Iroquois Falls the night before.
It was part of a busy day of community involvement for members of the NOJHL franchise that also saw another group of players bagging groceries at Dailey’s Your Independent Grocers, as part of James Toyota’s ninth-annual Ton In A Toyota event that collected 10,000 pounds of food, and a third answering phones during the Lions Children’s Christmas Telethon.
“The kids are very happy to have them on the ice today,” said Roxanne Miller, a coach/organizer with the Daystar Hockey Clinic.
“They are looking forward to learning new drills and skills.”
Participants in the Daystar Hockey Clinic were not given any advance notice they would be joined by the Rock players — or that they would be getting an early Christmas gift.
“I thought it would be a nice surprise,” Miller said.
“We thought the kids would enjoy something different. The kids were very surprised and they are very happy. They all came up and gave me a hug and said thank you.
“They are in awe. They are really amazed the (Rock) players would take time out of their day to come and join them. It definitely provided them with a boost of confidence.
“We are giving away tickets to all of the kids, so they can have a chance to go see the Rock. I am sure it will be a memorable experience for all of them.”
That was certainly the case for the youngsters who opted to use their free tickets to attend Sunday’s game where the Rock retired alumni Steve Sullivan’s No. 26 and get a chance to meet the former NHLer and get his autograph after the game.
The clinic has been operated for a number of years, although the sponsorship has changed during that span, and this group of youngsters took to the ice for the first time back on Oct. 10.
“This is a program geared for kids who cannot skate, or who would like to participate in hockey without feeling the stress of competition,” Miller said.
“We are a friendly group, just looking to have some fun and to teach the basics of hockey and skating.”
The clinic participants are divided into three groups, with youngsters who are seven or older taking to the ice at 8 a.m., those four to six at 9 a.m. and two and three year olds at 10 a.m.
Given the response of the youngsters to being able to share the ice with the Rock players, would Miller consider a similar event in the future?
“I would have them back every week, if we could,” she said.
“This is a whole new level of experience for the kids. They are just used to coming and doing the power skating part of the program but now that we are mid-season and incorporating the hockey into their skills, this is definitely a wonderful opportunity for them.”
Young Kaleb Rosevear, a man of few words, acknowledged he enjoyed getting the chance to skate with the Rock.
Asked what he likes most about the Daystar program, he summed it up in one word: “Hockey.”
Older brother Anthony, decked out in goalie equipment, got an opportunity to work with Matthew Nixon, one of the Rock goalies.
“He was able to help me with my glove defending and pretty much everything,” he said.
“I like playing goal because you get a lot of action.”
Anthony would much rather play hockey than watch it on television, so he doesn’t really have a favourite NHL goalie.
Like all of the youngsters who take part in the Daystar program, Anthony has to get up pretty early in the morning but he would rather lose a little sleep while getting up to play hockey than rising early to go to school.
Anthony found twice as many words as his brother Kaleb to describe why he likes taking part in the Daystar program: “Having fun.”
His dad, Derek Rosevear, was just as happy as his two sons to see the Rock join them on the ice Saturday morning.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” he said.
“We didn’t know anything about the Rock being here. Once the boys realized the guys from the Rock were here, they got pretty excited.”
The older Rosevear is really pleased with how the Daystar Hockey Clinic is run.
“The whole program is volunteer based,” he said.
“The boys look forward to coming out to the clinic every time. I thought it would be a little bit of an issue getting my older boy out of bed first thing in the morning, but it hasn’t been a problem. He loves coming out here.”
Dad was anticipating the car ride home would be pretty interesting.
“They will be excited,” he said.
“They will have lots of questions. ‘How do I get there? Once I get older, can I play like them?’ There will lots of questions and plenty of excitement.”
And it wasn’t just the youngsters and their parents who were excited by Saturday’s visit, either.
“It is awesome being out here working with these youngsters,” said Rock forward Kyle Levis.
“It’s a little tough because we have been here since like 7 a.m., but other than that, getting on the ice and helping out kids in the community and stuff is really awesome.
“These kids love it when we come out on the ice with them. It has really been fun. Everybody has been having a good time. It is nice to be able to hope on the ice with your teammates in a nice environment instead of at practice where things are intense all the time.”
Levis, a Timmins native, grew up playing minor hockey in the community and he was happy to be able give something back on Saturday.
“This is definitely something I have been looking forward to,” he said.
Levis realizes the participation of his teammates who were bagging groceries and answering telephones was just as important as what he and his teammates were doing tat the Whitney Arena Saturday, but he would not have wanted to change spots with any of them for the world.
“I definitely wanted to help out with the on-ice stuff,” he said.
“Coming out here and helping out as much as we can is definitely a privilege. All the other things we are doing today are really good things, as well. Helping out in our community as much as we can is definitely good for Timmins and our team.”
Getting an opportunity to work with the young players brought back some fond memories for Levis.
“When I think back to when I was this age, I would have loved to have had a couple of Junior ‘A’ guys come on the ice with me,” he said.
“I definitely think in a couple of years they will appreciate it.”
Levis feels it would be cool to see some of the youngsters in the stands during future Rock games.
“That would be awesome,” he said.
“I talked to a few of the kids and they were asking me what’s the toughest team to beat and stuff like that. It is awesome to hear kids wondering what’s going on in our league.”
As part of the festivities at the Daystar Hockey Clinic on Saturday, money was being raised to help the family of eight-year-old Timmins resident Jade Collins, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Miller said: “We, as a hockey family, are trying to see how much money we can raise to help out the family, especially around this time of need and around Christmas time. Since the Rock had offered to come this week, I thought we could pay it forward, also, a do a little fundraising for somebody in need. We will also be accepting donations the week of Dec. 19. The donation box will be set up and anyone who would like to come and donate, they are always welcome.”