By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
The excitement is building for the hosts of next month’s Special Hockey International 2013 tournament in Kitchener.
But that is mostly reserved for the hard-working parents, coaches and volunteers involved with the Kitchener Ice Pirates and their local supporting partners — the Cambridge Ice Hounds and the Guelph Giants.
As for the players, they are not thinking too far ahead.
“They all know for sure that it’s coming,” Ice Pirates coach Joel Reeves said Tuesday at The Aud during an exhibition game with OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. “But I think they’re more excited about when next week’s game is.
“But I know they’re happy that all these people are coming down to play.”
More than a thousand players and coaches from across Canada, the United States and Great Britain are expected to flood the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium and the Activa Sportsplex in Kitchener from March 14 to 16 for SHI 2013, a year-end friendship tournament for special needs hockey teams.
Most of the planning for the tournament is already complete and last Wednesday orientation and training began for the hundreds of volunteers expected to lend a hand.
Another training/orientation session is Feb. 19 at The Aud Subscribers’ Lounge at 5 p.m.
One of the hopes of hosting the tournament is that it will create awareness of special needs hockey in the community.
The Ice Pirates have already seen a steady bump in interest since forming in 2008. Back then, they had one team of eight players and one ice time per week to introduce children and adults with special needs — like autism or other developmental disabilities — to hockey.
Five years later, they have expanded to 50 players and three teams (introductory, junior and senior teams based on skill) whose players look forward to not only a chance to play hockey every week, but to socialize with their friends.
“It’s more than just adding people to a roster,” said Ice Pirates general manager Kirsten Carr, a private therapist who works with autistic children. She joined the team three years ago after stopping by a practice to observe one of her students.
“For the players, it’s about inclusion and enjoying something that most people take for granted,” Carr added. “They can go to school and say, ‘Hey, I play on a hockey team too.’
“All of a sudden they’re on an equal footing with their peers.”
Both Carr and Reeves said they have observed players blossom socially. Kids who were once shy and withdrawn are now chatting feverishly with their friends about a common love — hockey.
“It’s a lot easier for them to initiate conversations now, because they have something in common to talk about,” said Reeves, a Mount Forest native who studied therapeutic recreation at the University of Waterloo. “They’ll yak each others’ ears off and some of the conversations they have on the bench are pretty hilarious. And it’s not necessarily all about hockey.”
For more information on the SHI 2013 tournament, to volunteer or form a rally group for visiting teams, visit www.shikitchener2013.ca.