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St. Albert Snipers get taste of big leagues with Rogers Place trip

The tier 1 U11 team was selected as winner of the Ford Oilers Skills and Drills Competition

Charles Lazaroff, 9, a Grade 3 student at Muriel Martin Elementary and winger with the St. Albert Snipers hockey team, recalled the mood when coach Nick Yates announced their upcoming Saturday game was cancelled. 

Disappointment swept through the players — that is, until Yates mentioned the team would instead hit the ice at Rogers Place, the home of the Edmonton Oilers and Edmonton Oil Kings. 

“Then we were screaming and cheering and we got cupcakes,” Charles said. 

As entrants in the Ford Oilers Drills and Skills Competition, the Tier 1 U11 Snipers won a berth for a one-day skill-enhancing workshop at Rogers Place on Saturday, Feb. 4. More than 200 youth hockey teams from across the province entered. Only four teams were selected, said coach Yates. 

“It’s a pretty big deal to win,” said Yates. 

Seely Young, an École Marie Poburan Grade 5 student who plays centre for the Snipers, agrees. 

“It was super fun. Mostly skating at Rogers Place. The on-ice skating was an amazing event to do,” said Seely. “But the boards were weirdly bouncier than St. Albert. And if you ran into the boards, the glass shakes more. But I feel like it was pretty good.” 

The Snipers were selected as much for their off-ice community service as their on-ice skills and sportsmanship. The mixed team took part in food and clothing drives, as well as cleaning litter around three outdoor skating rinks in Forest Lawn, Woodlands and Kingswood. 

Sportsmanship also played a large part in the team’s success. To date, the Snipers have recorded the least number of penalties in their league.

“Working for the community is good for everyone and sometimes you get a reward like we did,” Seely added. 

In addition to their other community work, the Snipers collected a carload of toys for Ty’s Toy Drive that were delivered to the Stollery Children’s Hospital for children unable to go home for Christmas.

The drive is named after Tyler Grycan, a Grade 3 student at Muriel Martin who has a congenital heart defect. Tyler has had six open-heart surgeries and been on the heart transplant list for two years. Despite those medical challenges, for the past four years he has also been involved in organizing the toy drive. 

The Snipers invited Tyler to join them at Rogers Arena in recognition of his inspiring efforts. 

At Rogers Place, the eight-hour day was divided into a series of different sessions run by an Oilers assistant coach. The four winning teams were mixed and matched, giving players an opportunity to meet other players. The itinerary included five different on-ice drills ranging from one-on-one battles, stickhandling and two-on-two drills, to skating, passing and shooting drills. 

“A lot of the drills were pretty standard stuff most coaches run. The kids probably learned more on the off-ice course,” Yates said. 

During the off-ice portion of hockey medicine, an Oilers physiotherapist discussed concussions, dislocated shoulders and injury prevention, specifically the signs and symptoms. And the dryland training portion reflected a typical day of training working on core strength, planks and running, as well as an introduction to yoga. 

“Nowadays you won’t find a single NHL player who doesn’t do yoga. You have better performance with fewer injuries,” Yates said.

At day's end, each player received a swag bag with an official Oilers jersey, a T-shirt and a Styrofoam hand finger. Ladislav Smid, a former Oilers defenceman and now Oil Kings development coach, was the day's speaker and signed autographs for the players. 

“I’m so proud of the team, the parents and the Oilers organization," Yates concluded. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was a good showing by everyone.” 

Anna Borowiecki

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