Volunteers makes hockey programs go

With the hockey season winding down for most programs, one (combined) team wound their season down with an informal wind-up in the upstairs part of the Tilley Arena March 9 following a fun game against the parents.

The Tilley Tigers Hockey Club which features three teams based on the players’ age, abilities and levels of experience ended what was a successful season. There were 47 players registered including 18 rookies and 18 juniors (generally 8 to 11 years of age) and 11 seniors (generally 12-15 years). 

There is no official league the Tigers play in but rather they play exhibition games versus nearby community teams. 

The Tigers consistently played teams from Duchess and Rosemary. The rookies and junior teams also played a couple of teams in Ralston and hosted some players from Bow Island. 

“Our parents like the hockey program first and foremost because the goal of our team is to have fun while learning the amazing sport of hockey,” explains Amanda Hofmann, who was overseeing the team’s operations this past season. “They appreciate the ability to play hockey without the time constraints and financial constraints that come with playing in minor hockey divisions.”

The main purpose for the program is for the youngsters. It is a positive atmosphere, there is no pressure to be the best but to do their best and always have fun. There is respect for all those who volunteer time and no disrespect or encouragement of negative feelings like hostility or aggressiveness. 

Besides a code of conduct for players there is a 10-point Fair Play Code for Parents which needs to be adhered to including rule 1 and 2:  “1. I will not force my child to participate in sports.  2. I will remember that my child plays sport for his or her enjoyment, not for mine. “

One of those who volunteered his time coaching was Robin Niebergall. It is his second year being involved with the program. Last year, he was more of an assistant and this year took on more the primary coaching role with the junior and senior level players. He wanted to coach because a somewhere for his son to play.

“I was looking for a place that wasn’t as competitive as some of the minor hockey can be, but he still liked to play hockey and still go out on the ice and be part of the group,” explained Niebergall who has coached seven years in total, including five years within Brooks Minor Hockey. He has all his coaching certifications with Hockey Alberta. “It is great to be able to apply that out here to maybe people who don’t get access to people who have been through or who have had that level to see what it is like and do those drills in order to improve their hockey skills.

Hofmann says the program was needed for the community and its popularity has grown it has attracted players from the region. 

“The Tilley Tiger Hockey Club has been operating since 2013 and was created out of necessity,” explains Hofmann. “Me and my husband found out about the great program being run in Duchess and we wanted our children to have the opportunity to play so we joined their program for two years. When word got out at how wonderful the program was,  they were starting to get to their max capacity. It was suggested that we start the program out in Tilley which made sense considering we were from the area.  We spoke to a few community members to make sure I had enough involvement and we thought we might as well give it a shot. I still have several of the original players on my team now.”

Hofmann says the first year was “tight” and they had a total of 14 children within three age categories ranging from ages 6 to 12. 

Hofmann says they were able to work with the other teams and adjust lineups accordingly so everyone got to play and the teams were fair. 

“The main purpose has always has been for the kids to have fun and if that meant moving players around on different teams so we had an equal game that’s what we did,” explains Hofmann. 

Hofmann and a group of parents worked hard during the course of the year. There were parents who were in charge of collecting and washing all the jersey after each game; there were parents who helped Niebergall with coaching, there were volunteer on-ice officials for each of the games, others helped organize the games, the awards ceremony and getting gifts for the players and coaches and with the support from the hard working people who helped at the arena - the year was definitely a success.

What was their record for each of the teams. Ask the parents and perhaps the youngsters may have an idea on their record and stats… but it doesn’t matter in the long run. The only thing that remains are positive memories. While that may not be as appealing to the ultra competitive, all the Tigers greatly progressed their skill levels and left the season with good memories.

The wide range of experience and skill levels within each group would be challenging for many but for Niebergall, he reveled in it. It is the beauty of the program, having a diversity of skill levels.

“It is absolutely amazing to watch when you see the kids. What I enjoy the most is when do a drill in practice and then we get to a game and then all of a sudden they do the exact same thing. It means that something stuck with them and picked something up at practice,” explained Niebergall. “Often they don’t even realize they did it…I love with the young kids, especially this year we had a number of kids who never skated before. We had a lot who never played a hockey game before. To see them go in the last game and see them go and be involved and really compete and keep it competitive (vs. Duchess)… to me that’s what coaching is all about. To see the smiles on their faces and can’t wait to get back to the rink, to me that’s what coaching is about, making sure they are having fun and wanting to come back and play again.”

“To see them competing on a shift by shift basis. It doesn’t matter what happens at the end of the game, that they learned something and they had fun doing it and that they will be back again. To me that’s far more gratifying than winning an actual hockey game.”

“I believe in the program because my kids love hockey,” explains Hofmann. “Unfortunately our jobs do not allow for the time and travel commitments that come with other programs, however we did not want our children to miss out on the opportunity. It certainly helped that my husband has a passion for hockey and he loves to be able to coach when available.”

The program looks like it will continue to grow as there are no signs of it slowing down. 

“Every year it surprises me at how many kids I have returning or coming in. We don’t advertise at all and all new players are recruited via word-of-mouth,” explains Hofmann. “We have actually had players come from as far as Calgary! They were on our team for four years and only quit this year because their family moved. I have players coming from Brooks, Patricia, Tilley, Rolling Hills, Medicine Hat and Scandia.

Niebergall is happy with the program and is amazed at its growth. Because hockey is part of the players and parents’ lives but doesn’t dominate it, as words gets out about it, the program will be rock solid.

“A lot of people would thrive in this type of environment,” added Niebergall.

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