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Ice Pirates make hockey accessible for special needs

By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff

Batten down the hatches, because the Kitchener Ice Pirates are ready to plunder their way through a new season, with their first game on Oct. 15 against Mississauga.

Some residents may not be aware of this particular hockey team, which was founded about four years ago, according to Kirstin Carr, director of the program.

The Ice Pirates, which split into a junior and intermediate team this year, are co-ed, ageless teams for those with developmental delays.

While the junior team generally ranges from the ages of five to 25, nobody ages out of the team.

“Once our oldest player hits 25 we would really not have any cut off date,” said Carr. “Most teams within special hockey, and the ones that we play, there are players out there that are upwards into their 60s that may even be on the junior ability.”

The teams are split by ability rather than age, allowing those who may not fit in to a typical recreational or house league team to still enjoy the game and, if they wish, participate in tournaments that draw teams from across North America and England. The Ice Pirates will even host the Special Hockey International Tournament in 2013.

The Ice Pirate teams are now an affiliate of the Kitchener Minor Hockey Association and are run entirely by volunteers. Players from Kitchener, Waterloo and any surrounding towns are welcome to join, but they aren’t the only ones the team is looking for.

“We have a very strong need for volunteers because of the developmental delays with some of the players. They need redirection or they need one-to-one instruction, so the volunteers that we have come out each week are a very, very important factor in the success of our program,” said Carr.

Joining the team provides a number of benefits to players, according to Carr. They have the chance to feel included, have fun and work on both hockey and social skills. There are other benefits too, like the chance to get up close and personal with the Kitchener Rangers during a yearly game that sees the Ice Pirates and the Cambridge Ice Hounds join forces to face the OHL team.

“The Rangers are fabulous in that they will have their players come around and chat with the Ice Pirates, chat with the Ice Hounds, and give autographs,” said Carr. “There are a lot of players . . . that idolize the Rangers. They can tell you favourite players, favourite names, favourite numbers.”

Carr urges anyone looking for more information about joining the team or volunteering to email her at kirstin.carr@sympatico.ca. Anyone who wishes to register can email janetn@kitchenerminorhockey.com.

“It’s an awesome team. The players are thrilled every week to come out onto the ice. We are such a diverse group of individuals, both as volunteers and players out on the ice. I just think it’s incredible how we can all pull together and make it work and support the players and their individual needs,” she said.

“I think it’s rewarding for the players and it’s rewarding for the volunteers that participate.”

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