Local volunteer Chris Eskelson said it’s all about helping as many kids play hockey as possible.
For roughly eight years, Eskelson has been donating his time as director of Lloydminster’s Pond Hockey and Introduction to Hockey programs, often spending up to 12 hours a week with kids on the ice at the Russ Robertson arena.
“My son was playing hockey and when I got there, I just thought I would kind of go on the ice and help with my son’s group, (when) he was seven at the time, and I noticed that there wasn’t much for adult volunteers on the ice with the kids and no kind of direction,” he said.
“So I decided to be a little more involved and I actually run three different age groups, and back when we first started there was probably maybe 40 kids in total, and each year it just started to grow bigger and bigger because, probably, there was a little more structure to the program.”
Eskelson said the thing that keeps him coming back to volunteer is being able to watch the kids grow, especially with the Introduction to Hockey program, because when the kids start, many can’t even stand in their skates, and by the end, they’re flying up and down the ice and scoring goals.
He added it’s rewarding for him to see, and he enjoys being able to offer programs that give kids a chance to feel they’re on a team, who might not be able to get into mainstream programs for various reasons.
It’s not just Eskelson working alone, though, as his wife, Stacey, and kids, Dawson, Dexyn and Dessa, do a lot of work behind the scenes to keep the programs running smooth.
“She’s usually the one who’s organizing all the jerseys at the beginning of the year and, I mean, in the pond this year we have over 120 kids, so it’s 120 jerseys we’ve got to ensure get out at the end of the year,“Eskelson said of his wife.
“So she does a lot of that and usually at Christmas time I buy all the kids some kind of little gift; this year we did hockey stick candy canes and she’s the one behind the scenes, getting them all and putting tags on them and sometimes wrapping them if they need to be.”
As mentioned, his son Dawson has been lending a hand since he was seven years old, and with him now being 14, he’s been helping his father volunteer for half his life.
Eskelson said Dawson transitioned from being a stand-in goalie to helping teach drills and skills, and at this point, all three of his children are in his programs.
“We actually had to add more ice times, so we have four groups of pond hockey and we have four groups of intro (to hockey program), so now we’ve increased the amount of time we had on the ice to 12 hours a week, which is awesome. The more kids we can get involved the better, and we have 64 little four years olds on Saturday mornings, so it’s pretty neat,” he said.
The Introduction to Hockey program is pretty much what it sounds like, which is introducing kids to the sport, with a strong focus on the fun aspects of the game and teaching the children about teamwork.
The main objective of Pond Hockey is equally simple and straight to the point—make sure all the children involved are having a good time, meet new friends, and most importantly, play some hockey.
Another example of how Eskelson goes over and above the call of volunteering was a game he had at the end of last year when he broke out some smoke machines and fancy spotlights, then announced the name of each individual player as they came onto the ice, making the little tykes feel like all-stars.
He also organizes pizza parties and bus trips to Edmonton to watch Oil Kings games, subsidizing much of it out of his own pocket.
Nicki Lessner has two five-year-old twin daughters who both went through the Intro to Hockey program last year and are now enjoying their time in the Pond Hockey program.
She said the community of Lloydminster is lucky to have a volunteer like Eskelson, adding it’s his commitment to the kids that make the programs so great.
“Chris not only comes out and runs practices for 11-plus hours a week, he goes above and beyond to make sure that these kids starting out in hockey develop a love and passion for the game,” she said.
“His year end game where he introduced each individual player, three and four year olds, as they skated on the ice through the smoke and lights he had set up, and the spotlight waiting for them, was unbelievable; he made every kid feel like they were in the NHL.”
Eskelson also credits a few of his friends—Andrew Ross, Dean Segberg and Nathan Grindle—for helping the programs function, as well as support from Darrel Wagner, who’s the general manager for Lloyd Minor Hockey.
He also divides his time helping with other groups like KidSport, Men at Risk program and The Olive Tree, and when asked what inspires all his charity, he simply said he loves the community he lives in and he loves volunteering.
“I think there’s a lot of different groups and people who need support and I offer it where I can, and hockey is obviously my passion, but I do it for the kids,” Eskelson said.
“I could play rec. hockey, but I chose not to because that just takes away time I could be spending with the kids and I just think it’s more valuable to be on the ice with them, I’m still getting a bit of exercise, but at the end of the day it’s all about them.”