The excitement was unmistakeable as more than 30 players from the Rankin Rock atom and peewee hockey teams, their coaches and chaperones left Rankin Inlet on Oct. 6 to begin the first leg of the Experiences Canada Hockey Exchange program with the Mimico Canadiens in Toronto.
Known as the Northern Exchange, the activity list for the 10 day trip to the Big Smoke is impressive enough to make an adult feel a little jealous, including two NHL games featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But, wandering amongst the kids shortly before their departure time, it’s easy to see this is about more than just hockey.
Some can’t wait to meet their ‘twin,’ the player they are billeting with while in Toronto, and who will billet with them when the Canadiens arrive in Rankin Inlet this coming April.
The CN Tower is mentioned almost as much as the Air Canada Centre and, of course, visions of big city malls dance through the heads of many young players.
Jaidyn Verbeek, 11, is in her sixth season of playing hockey.
She said her cousins all played hockey, so she figured she’d give the game a try.
“As I began playing, I started liking hockey more and more,” said Verbeek.
“I like playing the game, making new friends, helping each-other out, and going on tournaments like this.
“I don’t really get all competitive when I play — it’s mostly the boys who do that. I’m really looking forward to finally meeting my twin, getting to see what it’s like in Toronto, going to the water park and watching the two NHL games.”
Haley Tatty, 10, is in her second year playing hockey. Living in Rankin Inlet, she had a hockey crazy family gently nudged her toward the sport.
“My brothers have been in hockey and my dad has been in hockey, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” said Tatty.
“Now I find myself wondering if my baby sister will want to join hockey, too, when she’s my age.
“This is my first time going to Toronto and I really want to see the CN Tower, go to some of the big malls and watch the Maple Leafs play.”
Princess Autut, 11, has been playing hockey for three years.
“I saw how much fun playing hockey can be from watching people play it on TV,” said Autut.
“The more I played, the more I liked the game and I also really like meeting new friends and getting to travel.
“Right now, I’m most excited about getting to see what my twin looks like and I’m supposed to throat sing with Susan Aglukark while we’re there.”
David Clark coaches the peewee squad and he said the opportunities for the kids on a trip like this go much further than hockey.
Clark said introducing many of the kids to a city like Toronto for the first time is a real eye-opener.
“This will actually be my first time inside the Air Canada Centre and to get to share that with my son and the kids I coach on a daily basis is beyond any wild dreams I had about my first time there,” said Clark.
“… I’m a firm believer that if you do good things with youth and put your time, heart and soul into it, then good things will come and this is, obviously, the trip of a lifetime for everybody involved.
“And the experience the kids will feel that night inside an NHL rink; that alone can drive some kids to reach their potential because it’s that powerful and, for those who’ve never experienced it before, I know I’ll never forget!”