YARMOUTH – Janine Doucet says her son Kaylob Doucet-d’Eon always tells her he’s so glad that she didn’t take his first, “No,” as his final answer. She feels the same way.
The 10-year-old, who turns 11 in October, had been unsure about going onto the ice last year for The First Shift, which is a program aimed at introducing hockey to kids who have never played it before.
“At first he had said no, but I told him if you want to try, this is your chance,” Doucet says. “’If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, it’s okay,’ I told him.”
But not only did it work, now the mother and son cannot say enough good things about the program. They highly encourage others to try it.
“I really think they should try the First Shift,” Kaylob says, admitting it took a lot of courage for him to go onto the ice. “Without the First Shift I wouldn’t be playing hockey.”
After the program ended last year Kaylob finished out the season as a goalie on a minor hockey team. He says he can’t wait for this year’s season to start.
First Shift is a program offered by Hockey Canada, Bauer and Canadian Tire. Last year the Yarmouth County Minor Hockey Association was fortunate to have been approved to offer the program in this region. It is available to male and female hockey players, aged 6-11.
“The program is aimed to get kids to play hockey who never played organized minor hockey before,” explains minor hockey volunteer Derek Amalfa. “The program is designed to be fun first, and have kids fall in love with the game of hockey.”
The cost of the program is $200. For this cost participants are outfitted head to toe with a full set of Bauer hockey equipment and receive six on-ice sessions. Instruction during those sessions comes from Yarmouth Junior A Mariners coaches and players.
“Throughout the six weeks they go on the ice and learn the basics of hockey. The hope is they’ll transition into minor hockey,” Amalfa says.
The First Shift program recognizes that for kids who haven’t played hockey before, skating onto the ice can be intimidating and can come with barriers. The barriers include financial, as outfitting a player in hockey gear on top of minor hockey registration fees can be expensive – especially if you’re just trying hockey out and aren’t sure if it’s something you’ll like or stick with.
Then there’s the intimidation factor of maybe not being a strong skater, which can be harder to overcome by immediately starting out a season with other kids who have played hockey before.
“First Shift is about breaking down those barriers. It’s the same playing field where nobody knows how to put a shin pad on,” Amalfa says. “It takes out that intimidation so kids can get comfortable with other kids in the same position and then graduate to where they feel they’re ready for real organized hockey.”
Last year many players went on to transition onto a minor hockey team in the Yarmouth association for the remainder of the season after the program ended, association past-president Sonya Breton says.
Around 18 of 22 program participants did so.
For Kaylob’s family, when first signing up for the program they figured, what did they have to lose?
“The Mariners were fantastic. They worked really well with him,” Janine says. “Every time he fell nobody got frustrated, they were good. They always cheered him on.”
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“I remember that first ice time he had was brutal. We cried – him and I – at the end. But I said, ‘You did your best, you didn’t give up. Keep going.’ And since then he’s amazed me beyond words,” his mother says, including with his choice to play the goalie position.
When the time came to join a team during the season, Kaylob and his mother were nervous, but excited.
“Every practice, every game, every chance he gets he tries to absorb information, try out strategies, practice every tip he gets from people he admires,” his mother had posted to Facebook last season. “He’s already experienced the highs of a shootout victory and the lows of a bad loss and has learned so much from the support around him.”
When March Break rolled around at the Joe Lamontagne Memorial Tournament he placed third out of 11 goalies in a shootout skills competition amongst his age group.
The family sees many years of hockey ahead.
“If he hadn’t taken that first leap of faith in First Shift, he never would be there,” says Kaylob’s mom. “As a parent of a hockey-loving son who never dared to skate, here we are.”
5 things to know about First Shift
1. Program cost is $200 and you get outfitted with full Bauer equipment.
2. The opening event is Oct. 11 with the first Monday session of the six weekly sessions on Oct. 17, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
3. The program is for male and female players aged 6 to 11.
4. You can register through a link on the Yarmouth County Minor Hockey Association website.
5. For more information you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.