‘Friends and skating:’ HEROS program brings hockey lover off the bench

Hockey Education Reaching out Society (HEROS) has allowed for the Snell sisters Ava (left) and Mila (right) to play hockey together.
Photo by Karlie McGeough

Ava Snell loves to watch her sister play hockey.  

Now she can play, too, because of the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society (HEROS). 

“Friends and skating,” said 14-year-old Ava Snell who has an intellectual disability, when asked what she loved about hockey.  

Her 12-year-old sister, Mila was just five when she started playing hockey, but unlike many other kids who have dreams of lacing up their skates and joining a team, Mila never wanted to be a hockey player. Especially if she couldn’t wear her pink dress underneath.  

(Mila) was a little upset when we had to go buy her equipment because it wasn’t a dress,” said Christine Snell, their mother. 

 “We would have to try it on several times before we went to the rink so that she would get used to it and it always had to be pink. 

Although hesitant at first, there was one reason Mila would continue to play hockey, It was for her big sister, who wasn’t able to play due to her disability and the lack of programs in the city that would allow her the onice help she needed 

I hated it every time I had to get dressed,” said Mila. “would cry every time I had to get on the ice but then there would be Ava, banging on the glass and cheering me on, and that was the only thing that would keep me out there. 

I would always tell my parents that I was playing for Ava, not me. 

It wasn’t until Mila got a little older when she started to realize she wasn’t just playing for her sister anymore, she was also playing for herself.  

Once I got into my second-year novice, I was on a good team and I made lots of friends so that helped change my mind about hockey,” said Mila. Before I was always on the same team and we never won a game or anything so I found it boring. 

While Ava continued to cheer her sister on in the stands, she still wasn’t able to play the game she loved and until two years ago. Her parents thought it was something they would never see. 

In June of 2019, HEROS announced it would be opening a chapter in Regina. 

The volunteerdriven program uses the game of hockey to teach life-skills and empower marginalized youth, helping over 10,000 kids in Canada play the game of hockey. The Regina team of 15 meets every Saturday morning from September to March to work on their skills and enjoy the sport together. 

Christine says this is a program they have been waiting a long time for and since the beginning of the program last fall, she has seen not only her daughter Ava, but the entire team flourish.  

It’s amazing seeing how these kids every year are developing even more with not just their skills but their communication with others,” said Christine. 

 Some kids weren’t even talking and now they are talking with each other and socializing with one another. It just brings something out of the kids and it’s just a great program. 

Christine never thought she would see the day when her daughters would both share the experience of playing hockey together but now she gets to watch her daughters on the ice together.  

“They are close sisters to begin with so it just makes us as parents proud that we have kids that are as close and caring as they are for each other and for the other kids that are out there,” said Christine.  

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