Fledgling hockey players in the north central Saskatchewan community of La Ronge now have brand new equipment to help them enter the sport.
Local RCMP officer Cpl. Brent Nicol tapped the National Hockey League Players Association Goals and Dreams program to donate 20 full sets of hockey equipment to families who couldn't otherwise afford it.
"I used it as a bridge between the RCMP and the community to show that we're here to make the community better," Nicol said. "By me donating this, I'm hoping that the kids will get into the sport."
Nicol said sport can play an important in giving kids a chance to do something other than playing video games or potentially joining gangs and getting into trouble with the law.
Eleven children between the age of four and 12 were identified with the help of Kevin Roberts, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band's director of sport and recreation. The remaining sets of equipment will be donated to the local minor hockey program, according to Nicol.
He said some kids who participate in hockey through the minor hockey program have to rent gear because they don't have the money to buy all the equipment they need. The newly donated gear will end up in that pool, potentially benefiting other less fortunate youth in La Ronge.
Nicol said Roberts donated some ice time at the Jonas Roberts Memorial Community Centre so the kids could learn how to skate — and members of the La Ronge Ice Wolves were on hand to teach them.
"It turned into a very emotional time for me because it was just awesome to see the smiles on the faces of the kids when they were getting their equipment, and then getting to be out on the ice," Nicol said.
"None of them had ever been on skates before and of course, had never had hockey equipment … even the parents were very excited for their kids."
It was La Ronge Ice Wolves head coach and former NHLer Kevin Kaminski who initially pointed Nicol toward the Goals and Dreams program. He was on hand to watch the kids take to the ice in their new gear.
"Man, it was like Christmas all over again," he said. "These are under-privileged kids who don't have money to buy the equipment... This is an opportunity that we probably wouldn't have without the NHL [players association] and the La Ronge RCMP."
Nicol said as an RCMP officer he's helped out with community events before, but never tackled a project involving sports equipment.
Now that he has the contacts, he says he'd like to do it again.