Friends of Hockey works to make the game more accessible

This week sees big swap event for Friends of Hockey, providing equipment for kids
Friends of Hockey co-director Kyle Rank at the brand new equipment cage located at the WMC in Elmira. The cage will let the group store their gear right at the arena, making it far easier to access and distribute. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Hockey may be Canada’s national pastime, but it’s not an inexpensive one.

To help with the cost of playing, Woolwich’s Friends of Hockey group this week held their big equipment swap event before the start of the hockey season. The group, which has been helping kids in the township get over those costly equipment and registration expenses since 2009, ran the event Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Woolwich Memorial Centre in Elmira.

“If anybody has any used equipment that’s in good shape, we will take it. And we have tons of equipment ready for kids to take this upcoming season,” said Kyle Rank, one of the directors at the Friends of Hockey. Rank is encouraging both people with gear to give, and people in need of some equipment, to come by the event or reach out anytime to the Friends of Hockey.

“We take pretty much anything that’s in good shape. Our biggest things are skates, shin pads, shoulder pads, elbow pads,” said Rank. “And then anything red.”

The Woolwich colours are, of course, red for the minors, and any kids joining a rep or travelling team can suddenly find themselves in need of some colour-coordinated pants, gloves and helmets fast.

“So that’s kind of the big expenses. Children are playing and then all of a sudden they make a rep team or a travelling team and then they have a little incurred cost to get in the red equipment. So anything red is always very beneficial,” said Rank.

Friends of Hockey help kids enter into the sport, be it with registration costs and purchasing the equipment, but the swap is something fairly new, says Rob Waters, a fellow director at the organization.

“Basically, a few years ago we decided to take on used equipment. Many people were asking us to do this because so many people have really good equipment in their garage or basement that they wanted to donate,” said Waters, noting it was a hit with both parents wanting to get rid of old equipment, and people hoping to get nice equipment for their kids at no cost.

For Rank and Waters, the Friends of Hockey mission, to give everyone access to the sport regardless of their financial background, has a personal meaning. The organization was founded by Waters’ father, Bob Waters, alongside Mark Facoury, Jim Radcliffe and Mike Parsons as a very small, “behind-the-scenes” operation to help people in the community. When his father passed, Waters was asked to take over his work.

For Rank, while his father, Richard Rank, was not a founder, he was supportive of the cause, so much so that when he passed away he bequeathed a sizable amount to the organization. That donation eventually led Rank to become an active member of the Friends of Hockey.

“I know I was lucky enough to always have hockey equipment,” says Rank. “My dad had known a lot of people in town, and he kind of knew who was getting rid of used equipment and stuff like that, so I always kind of just got hand-me-downs from other kids, which was great.”

He also had two hockey-playing siblings, a brother and sister, and he empathizes with just how expensive the sport can get for families.

“But the big thing for me is just being able to help out. Hockey has been a big part of my life, so [now I’m] helping other people get involved in the game.”

Waters meanwhile has also been a long and storied history with minor hockey.

“For the last 10-15 years I was the president of Woolwich Minor Hockey, I know how expensive hockey is,” said Waters. “I’ve been involved with this for seven years and it’s great to see how we can make a difference in many families and give the kids opportunities to play hockey.”

Perhaps the biggest difference at this year’s equipment swap for the Friends of Hockey is a new equipment cage that has been built at the McLeod Arena at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. The space was granted to Friends of Hockey to store all their equipment, meaning it’s now far closer to the players and far more easy to access.

“Before we were dragging pickup trucks of equipment back and forth, whereas (now) everything will be there all the time,” Waters explained.

For those who missed this week’s swap, and are either looking for some gear for the upcoming season or willing to make a contribution, they can reach out to the Friends of Hockey anytime. The person to contact in either case is Jim Radcliffe at 519-210-0660.

“Bring it on by. We can find a kid who can use it,” said Rank of those with equipment they can part with.