If you ask Tom Babcock, he’ll tell you hockey is the greatest sport on earth.
And that’s why he wants to help give more kids the chance to give it a shot.
“The reality is, hockey is a very expensive sport because of the cost of equipment and the extremely high cost of ice in Sarnia,” said the head coach of the Lambton Jr. Sting Bantam AAA hockey team and father of four.
“There are just too many that never have the chance to try, because parents simply can’t afford to spend the money.”
This season, he’s helping bring the NHL/NHLPA First Shift Program to Sarnia for the first time. The idea is to introduce new-to-hockey families to the sport, in an accessible affordable, safe, and fun way.
“We want to take away any intimidation as it relates to equipment requirements and rules of the game, remove potential safety concerns, and most importantly, provide an experience that is memorable and fun,” said Babcock, who brought the idea to the Sarnia Hockey Association Board of Directors, which unanimously supported his application.
Sarnia was chosen as one of 73 hosting programs in Ontario, and quickly sold out all 45 spots, with a growing wait list.
“It breaks my heart that there are kids that won’t get a chance to be involved this year,” said Babcock, adding he’s already planning to apply for the program again next year.
The $199 per player (aged 6 to 10) program includes full gear (Bauer equipment) and fitting demonstrations as well as six weeks of on-ice sessions.
The sessions are set to be Oct. 18 with a transition program to follow for players that want to continue and possibly join the house league program.
“Hockey will help kids learn to develop friendships; it helps build confidence, growth and development of mental health and physical fitness … and it’s one of those things you can do your entire life,” said Babcock, who recently earned a Mental Health Advocate award from St. Clair Child and Youth for developing an educational program for minor hockey players called Face Off for Mental Health.
And earlier this month, the provincial body Alliance Hockey named him Coach of the Year, a first for a Sarnia-Lambton coach.
“We want families to experience the game at its best,” he said. “To understand why so many Canadians feel an inherent love for the sport.”