Volunteers are all ages and sizes.
Take, for example, Ben Woodlock.
Ben is a 14-year-old apprentice coach with the Alberta Elite Hockey League’s U15 AAA St. Albert Gregg Distributors Sabres.
“Ben kind of brought our whole family back into hockey,” said his father, Pat. “When we moved into our neighborhood, there was an ongoing street hockey game. He grew up looking at that and had a hockey stick in his hands in his early years.”
By the age of five, Ben was ready to hit the ice, but his parents were more uncertain.
“Given Ben’s medical history, we weren’t sure if he should or could play,” said Pat. “We talked to his team of medical specialists and they felt that the overall benefit (of playing hockey) outweighed the risk.”
At 14, Ben has already undergone two kidney transplants – first, when he was a year and a half and his second at age 11. For a large part of his life, he in the hospital three or four times a week receiving dialysis and treatments.
While going through treatment, Ben would pass the time on his iPad, watching NHL highlights, studying different plays, researching statistics and doing quizzes about hockey.
“I had watched all the shows so I decided to look up hockey stats and it went from there,” said Ben. “If I’m ever having a bad day, I can rely on hockey.”
The way Ben thinks and understands the game is beyond how most hockey fans see it. But standing at approximately 4’10”, a combination of his size and medical history left Ben uncertain about his playing future. After five years, he said he lost his love for playing the game.
His parents saw Ben still had passion for the game and recommended officiating. Knowing the game, this was an easy transition for Ben, but he still had more to give.
In August, the Sabres head coach, Geoff Giacobbo heard Ben’s story. He didn’t think twice about approaching Ben about whether he would be interested in an apprentice coaching role.
“As a coach, it’s a win-win,” said Giacobbo. “Our team gets a better understanding of how fortunate we are to do what we love every day. They get to see what a difference kindness can make for someone and for Ben, he gets to be a part of a team and the sport he loves.”
Ben’s role with the team looked like any other coach. He participated in team activities, helped at practice, recorded game videos, counted team and individual stats and sometimes he’d just watch to take it all in.
“Ben’s a lot happier overall and this (new role) has given him a lot of confidence,” said Pat. “The whole thing with hockey is that it teaches you life skills. As parents, it’s at the forefront for us that our kids are learning life lessons that go beyond whether you win or lose a particular game. I’ve found that experience has been front and centre with Ben in his new role.”
The ice has barely thawed for this season and Ben is already looking ahead to next year. With a goal of one day getting into scouting, or working as a player agent, he’s using his role to gain the experience to make his dreams come true.
“In May, we have a selection camp that I’ll be part of, it’s pretty exciting because it’s like scouting,” said Ben. “I’ll be more experienced and know the team so I’m already looking forward to what’s coming up.”