A recent article in the Parry Sound Beacon Star
MACTIER – Generous, kind, good coffee, hockey, poutine, and maple syrup – all used to describe Canadians and Canada.
Hockey is arguably a part of our culture, arguably bred into us – ingrained in our blood. Some play it, others are raised in a household with a father and brothers who are hockey fanatics; gathering around the television during games and playoffs, as hopes and dreams came true – and were sometimes crushed.
The youth of MacTier and surrounding area are undoubtedly impacted by the sport – playing for free, with free equipment, thanks to the generosity and dedication of David Mackinnon, the community’s Monday night hockey creator, along with Scott Baker and Jamie Steele, Monday night hockey volunteers.
Two years ago, Mackinnon noticed a disconnect in the community – the local arena was not being used to its full potential and faced closure when the Township of Georgian Bay contemplated offering it to private buyers for a legal medical marijuana grow-op. Many were outraged, including local NHL hockey legend Bobby Orr, who dubbing the idea as “shameful” in interviews with national media.
When this idea was quashed amid public outrage, Mackinnon realized there was an opportunity– an opportunity to bring youth, and the community as a whole, together under the umbrella of hockey. Mackinnon recognized the fact that organized hockey is expensive but knew that there had to be a solution.
“I didn’t see why it had to cost so much,” wrote Mackinnon in email correspondence. “There had to be a way to get kids on the ice without it costing a fortune.” Mackinnon’s solution: free hockey and free equipment to all kids under the age of 18. Mackinnon now begins collecting donations of hockey equipment in August, and by September he generally has enough of what is needed and, if not, he buys the remainder to “fill out the holes” in the gear department. Mackinnon also covers the cost of ice time, working with the Township of Georgian Bay which has “cut a deal” to provide a reduced cost.
Mackinnon said there are only a few rules: no kid is turned away – ever; all gear is free and theirs to keep; there is no cost to any child; and fun must be had at all times.
“It’s a private program and totally unique across North America,” said Baker. “We’ve looked and we can’t find anything like it. And we’re teaching the kids more than just hockey – we’re teaching them essential, valuable skills, building character, leadership skills, and building confidence.”
Baker describes the program as a simulation of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization – as the organizers not only help teach kids the sport, but are also there to be a friend and talk about school and other interests. Though the program had a mandate that includes having fun and character development, being safe is also important, as youth are supervised at all times.
“You know, there are kids that come out with all skill levels – some that play minor league hockey and others that don’t even know how to skate, and we are there to help – no one is ever turned away.”
Youth are encouraged from all over the area to attend and for those who do not have transportation available, pickups can and are arranged. Baker spoke of one experience in particular where the entire arena stopped skating to allow a young girl to skate up to the net and score her first goal, then celebrated by everyone on the ice who banged hockey sticks on the ice surface.
“I could sit here all day and explain to you how great it is, but you really have to see it to understand,” said Baker. “I dedicate two hours every Monday to this but I would never trade it in. I would give other things up before I would ever give this up.” Baker said he goes home every Monday evening feeling great after the evening’s events and his reward is what the kids get out of the program. He believes youth deserve the opportunity.
In only its second year, the program has 20 kids who regularly attend Monday night hockey and Baker said that if needed, they will book more ice time to provide kids with this unique opportunity. Mackinnon said that his goal is to expand the program, introducing it to towns and cities throughout Ontario.
“There are 1,250 arenas in Ontario,” writes Mackinnon. “About 900 of those are in towns not a lot different from ours.”
Mackinnon said that the secret to the program’s success is its simplicity. “We just want to play. We are shinny every week – safe and free for all kids. What could be better?” he writes. “The key is to finding those one or two guys in each of these communities who have a little spare time, a little spare cash, and a love for the game in its simplest form – a bunch of kids with a stick and a puck.”
Monday night hockey takes place every Monday evening from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the MacTier arena and concludes on Sunday, March 22, at 5 p.m with awards presented to the most dedicated mom and most dedicated dad. Pizza is also available at the program’s conclusion – courtesy of David Mackinnon.