Local teams get a chance to skate with WHL 'heroes'
It was a Family Day well spent on the ice for the Airdrie Timbit hockey teams and the Airdrie Atom Vipers and Warriors.
The three teams got a chance to play shinny and do drills and skills with members of the Calgary Hitmen in conjunction with the team’s Enmax pond hockey program at the Ron Ebbesen Arena Feb. 18.
“Having the close encounter with the high-level skill the Hitmen bring, it’s a great experience for the kids,” said Vipers coach Mike Guenther. “It’s all about playing the game and having fun.”
Enmax has been partnering with the Hitmen and the Flames, as well as the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, Edmonton Oil Kings and Lethbridge Hurricanes, to bring hockey to city neighbourhoods and surrounding communities across Alberta for 14 years. The Hitmens’ stop in Airdrie was one of 10 pond hockey events the groups will be doing this year. Jennifer Hamilton, the community investment and sponsorship coordinator with Enmax, said the event wasn’t just a fun day off for the hockey players, but also a Family Day excursion for the community.
“It’s definitely a memory for them,” she said.
Jake Virtanen was part of the Hitmen contingent, along with teammates Pavlo Padakin, Colten Mayor. Chase Lang and Chris Driedger and others, who took to the ice with the three teams and stuck around afterwards for an autograph and photo session. A rookie with the Hitmen, it was Virtanen’s first outing with the pond hockey event.
Growing up in Abbotsford, B.C., and once a Timbit player himself, Virtanen was in the youngsters’ place only a few years ago and remembers what it was like when he got the chance to skate with the Vancouver Giants. Now, he’s the one the young players are asking for a stick from and for tips on how to improve their game.
“It’s pretty cool to come out with the little guys and show them what it takes to be in the WHL,” Virtanen said. “A lot of them want to grow up and be hockey players and it shows they love the game.
“We get a fun day off to come out and play hockey. And just seeing the looks on their faces, they’re always smiling and it’s an honour to be out here.”
For Guenther, watching his team get a chance to skate with their hockey heroes is just as fun as playing games, especially in the midst of a long season.
“The hockey season is pretty in-depth and pretty vigorous,” he said. “We’ve gone to a lot of tournaments and played a lot of extra games, so it’s pretty intense. It gives the kids a big smile and renewed energy. It puts a little steam in the engine for the playoffs, so it’s great.”