Being a junior hockey player means a good chunk of your time needs to be scheduled properly between practice, games, school and events where you represent the team in the public eye.
One of those events for Red Deer Rebels players over the past 20-plus years has been the annual launch of the team’s relationship with Annie L. Gaetz School in Red Deer.
“It’s a great opportunity for the players to do some community service while the students see that the players aren’t just simply hockey players on the ice, that they’re people who do math and read books,” said Moira Milne, a member of the school committee which organizes the Rebels connection.
The reception the players get from these young fans is wild and packed with songs, chants and cheers.
“It’s always fun doing it for the kids,” said forward Brooks Maxwell who was on his third tour of Annie L. Gaetz as a Rebel.
“They love seeing the guys. When you walk through the door they are all perked up and happy to see you. It’s fun to put a smile on a kid’s face and make them excited.”
Another aspect of the day is when the players choose from random pucks marked with the classroom they will spend time in during the school year. The players milk the moment for all it’s worth as the kids want their classroom chosen right away and some Rebels will reach for one puck and then pick up another. It’s a move which elicits some moans, groans and eventually cheers.
“The players have no idea what’s on the pucks so they’re just playing along with the kids which is great,” said Milne. “It’s also nice to see the players that have been here more than one year because they understand how to play up to the kids and how excited they can get.”
There were plenty of Rebels jerseys from over the years sprinkled throughout the crowd which was well behaved at the start of the assembly.
But then the kids will let loose with their appreciation for the Rebels coming to their school to share some time with them on their turf.
“It’s the only assembly where we do a lot of cheering,” said Milne.
“Most of our assemblies we talk about sitting quietly and being respectful and listening to the speaker. This one all bets are off. The kids just let ‘er rip and it’s awesome to hear.”
For Maxwell it was a school class hat trick of sorts after the puck he selected revealed his classroom for the year.
“I’ve actually got the same kids all three years. I got them in Kindergarten, I got them in Grade 1 and now I’m in their Grade 2 class.”
The players will do some book reading to the class during their once a month visits and maybe help out if possible with other subjects if they maybe were strong students themselves in those areas.
“I didn’t really have a solid one, let’s put it that way,” said Maxwell. “They could probably teach me.”
Now while Annie L. Gaetz is being refurbished the students are in a new, temporary location downtown but the support for the Rebels continues to be a strong link.
“It doesn’t matter where we are as a community. We’ve really noticed as a staff and the students, whether we’re on the third or fifth floors in our new building or our old school, it’s the community of Annie L. Gaetz that comes through,” said Milne.