When asked the name of his favourite hockey player Dillon Riley doesn’t hesitate.
“Kyle Turris,” said the 12-year-old Kanata boy.
Dillon had the chance to skate with Turris, as well as a few other Ottawa Senators, who came out to participate in a Dec. 22 practice and scrimmage held by the Capital City Condors, a hockey team for children with intellectual or physical disabilities.
Turris and a few of his teammates, including Eric Condra and Peter Regin, helped the nearly 100 children, ages six and up, learn skating, shooting and stick handling drills at the Jack Charron Arena in Glen Cairn.
The Condors, members of the club’s A and AA teams in Rockland and Kanata, were happy to see the Senators take the ice, with many of the children pausing during drills and scrimmages to give their National Hockey League mentors hugs, followed by huge smiles.
Those smiles keep bringing the Sens back to the Jack Charron Arena, said Turris.
“They’re just laughing and giggling and so happy,” said Turris. “They’re having a good time and I’m having a great time as well.”
The Condors are always excited when they come out to play, he added.
“They’re putting on their gear as quick as they can in the locker room. They get out here and they’re just pure happiness and it’s really neat.”
Turris first heard about the Condors from Matt Carkner, a former teammate and roommate and an enthusiastic supporter of the special-needs hockey club.
Carkner introduced Turris to Jim Perkins, who co-founded the Condors in 2008.
“He asked if I’d be interested in coming out and skating with the kids,” he said. “I fell in love with them.”
A CHANCE TO PLAY
There was a time when Dillon’s mother, Sue Riley, thought her son would never have the chance to play Canada’s national sport.
“I didn’t think it would be possible for him to be part of a hockey team just given his special needs,” she said. “It builds his self-confidence and he just loves it. He looks forward to it every week.”
This is Dillon’s third year playing for the Condors.
“Every year we see him progressing,” said Riley. “He’s out there now shooting pucks and scoring even – it’s awesome.”
It’s not just being on the ice that captures his imagination, she added, saying her son enjoys the whole experience of coming to an arena every Saturday, sitting in the locker room with his friends and just being part of a team.
“It means a lot,” she said. “It really warms your heart when you see him out there as part of a team, and very proud.”
Shana Perkins and her husband Jim started the Condors in 2008, after watching a team of children with special needs play hockey in Cambridge, Ont.
“We were so inspired by the kids and the families and the difference it was making in their lives,” she said. “We came back to Ottawa and said, ‘If this doesn’t exist, then we need to start it here.’”
The Perkins got together with a few friends and organized a game at an arena in Beckwith Township.
“We had three players for our first session,” she said.
Since then, the number of players has expanded to nearly 100 children.
Now in its fifth year, the Condors boasts two Kanata teams, a team in Rockland, one in Cambridge, Ont., and another in Gatineau. The Condors are also set to debut teams in Carleton Place, Huntsville, Ont., and Calgary in the new year.
The Condors require ice time scheduled on the same days and times, because many of the players have special needs that demand a strict routine, said Shana.
This year, the Condors were able to take about 20 names off the waiting list, thanks to ice time donated by the Kanata Minor Hockey Association and with help from the city.
“There’s definitely a need for more teams,” said Shana. “There’s tons of kids who don’t have the opportunity to play ice hockey, not just in Ottawa, but also in cities across Canada.”
The Condors have been contacted by people across Canada, including Calgary and Winnipeg, as well in other countries, asking about starting up similar clubs in their cities.
The hockey club is putting together an information package, describing the Condors experiences and offering a start-up guide.
“Really one of our goals, our dreams, is to see this program spread,” Shana said. “That’s what we’d like to see happen, every city and town in Canada has a special-needs hockey team.”
Registration for the team is ongoing all season. Player registration is available on the website at capitalcitycondors.org.
The team is always looking for help on and off the ice, and are in
specific need of adult volunteers. Volunteer registration is also
available on the website.
She and Jim are also looking at starting a hockey league for blind and visually impaired players, as well as a team for those who are confined to wheelchairs.
The Perkins will also be working with Courage Canada, based in Vancouver, to develop hockey for people who are blind.
BELL CAPITAL CUP
This year, the Condors have become an arm of the 2013 Bell Capital Cup tournament, which runs from Dec. 28 to Jan. 1 and attracts teams from across the world.
The team participates in the Special Hockey International Tournament but this will be the first mixed tournament for the Condors.
Last year’s Bell Capital Cup saw 410 teams participate from 19 divisions with more than 7,000 players. Teams from the United States, Finland, Germany and South Korea competed in the tournament.
The 2013 Bell Capital Cup runs from Dec. 28 to Jan. 1.
Aside from participating in the Bell Capital Cup, the Condors are also gearing up to host the 2015 Special Hockey International Tournament. The team put forward its bid in 2011 after seeing how much the players enjoyed participating in the event.
- With files from Jessica Cunha