Sundre’s arena was filled Friday night with the cheers of excited hockey fans who came out for the minor hockey association’s second annual Twinkle Toes players-versus-coaches season windup game, which this year featured two former Calgary Flames.
Dressed in pink jerseys and sporting tutus, coaches teamed up with Sheldon Kennedy and Curtis Glencross, who got into the spirit of things and also fearlessly hit the ice on Friday, March 31 looking like bulky ballerinas, to play against the bantam Huskies, before later in the game revealing their former Flames colours.
Minutes before the game, Sundre Minor Hockey Association president Dorothy Thengs told the Round Up she was happy with the turnout, which saw most of the arena’s stands filled while others watched from the interior lobby.
“It’s great to see everyone coming out,” she said.
The participation of the former NHL players would make a great experience for both the kids on the ice as well as those enthusiastically spectating from the stands, she said.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
During an interview with Kennedy before the puck dropped as he, Glencross and the coaches skated around with the boys, the former NHL player expressed a desire to support minor hockey.
“Especially something like this, where we can come out and have some fun, you know, it’s not so serious,” he said, completely unfazed by the puffy pink tutu he was sporting.
Being able to simply have fun is important to remember for kids who want to get involved in the game, he said.
“Play the game to have fun. You’re going to learn more from the game by having fun than you are by being stressed out trying to win every game.”
Minor hockey — and team sports generally speaking — are ideal to help ensure youth remain physically active, he told the Round Up.
“We know that exercise and being involved in sport is one of the best medicines for mental health, and mental health seems to be a struggle for a lot of people.”
Another invaluable benefit is the opportunity to understand and to learn how to communicate and work with others, a skill that carries off of the ice and into adult life, he said.
“Moving into the workplace, you got to learn how to work with people, and I think the game of hockey, and other sports, offer that.”
Candidly talking about his ongoing efforts to confront child abuse, he said, “Anything we can do to make sure we keep these kids safe is important.”
Kennedy was among numerous teen hockey players to be abused in the late ’80s and early ’90s by former coach and convicted sex offender Graham James. Following years of internal and often self-destructive struggle, Kennedy confronted his past by going public and has since devoted a great deal of effort to raising awareness through the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.
“We’re building a child advocacy centre, which will encompass all of Central Alberta,” he said.
“We do every child abuse investigation in Calgary and southern Alberta.”
Spending time travelling to schools and minor hockey clubs, he says the majority of abused children know the offender and that while kids tend to be well educated on the matter, some parents “really aren’t quite sure about it.”
Although time is always in short supply, he was glad his schedule was able to accommodate the invitation to play in Sundre.
“We’ve been on the road a lot, but it managed to work in our calendar to get up here tonight and play the game. It’s exciting,” he said, later adding, “It’s an honour to be here.”