Milo School launches hockey program

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Eight junior high students at Milo School skated their way into 2015, with a new twice-a-week hockey program.

Principal Jason Neville said the Mustangs Hockey Academy gives Grade 7-9 students an opportunity to hone hockey skills at the Milo arena, conveniently located right next to the school.

The academy had the support of about a $1,200 grant from Vulcan County, on recommendation of the Milo and District Recreation Board, for stick-handling aides, jerseys and other materials, ice time donated by the Milo and District Agricultural Society, which runs the arena, and help and advice from Jeff Smith, the teacher supervisor of the hockey program at R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale.

The six boys and two girls hit the ice for the first time Jan. 6.

Each Tuesday and Thursday from now until the ice is no longer available, the students will have 45 minutes to an hour of conditioning and skill building.

Neville serves as the hockey instructor, developing the drills and encouraging the students to adapt as needed to challenge themselves. There’s a wide range of skill and previous hockey experience among the students, and Neville has been impressed with their self-direction and initiative.

“It was cool,” he says. “The stronger hockey players were falling down just as much as the ones who’ve never played before. Some of them were trying stuff they want to improve.”

In a school review conducted in January 2014, students expressed a desire for more athletic opportunities. Hockey is a passion of Neville’s and he saw the potential to introduce a program for students who share his love of the game.

“It’s a way to take their passion and bring it into the school,” he said.

The hockey program occurs at the end of the school day, while other students are in physical education class.

Nash Nelson, a Grade 9 student and goalie for the Bantam Huszar Knights, said the school program is a great opportunity, supplementing the days he already spends practising.

“I’ll better my skills and play at a higher level,” he says.

Kaden Booth, a Grade 8 student, plays for the Foothills AA Bisons in Nanton, about an hour’s drive from Milo. Although he broke his wrist recently, he welcomes the opportunity to have extra ice time to keep up his fitness level while his wrist heals.

“Hockey is my favourite thing.”

Is there such a thing as too much hockey? “Not for me,” he says.

The program is weather-dependent because the arena has natural ice. Neville is hoping students will have at least 12-15 on-ice sessions, but if winter weather lingers, it could go on longer.

At the end of the each session, the students scrape the ice surface and shovel the snow outside. Many of the students in the program, including Booth, “live at the rink on evenings and weekends” because the ice is accessible and they love to play, Neville says.

Playing team hockey is a challenge in Milo, a village of just over 100 people. Players drive close to an hour or more to teams in neighbouring towns.

“Unless you’re super serious about it, there just isn’t an opportunity,” Neville says.

The new program is one of many new options available to Milo students this year. Volleyball made a return this fall. There weren’t enough students to commit to a league basketball team, but a Milo squad will play at least a couple games against neighbouring Arrowwood Community School. Neville serves as principal of both schools.

Next year, he says Milo students will have an opportunity to join Champion students on a marine biology trip to Canada’s West Coast.