The pre-game jitters were in full effect for the Limmud Centre hockey players while they waited for their moment to shine in front of a packed Bill Durnan Arena on April 7.
The boys shared anxious glances in the locker room, but laughter hung in the air. They were excited to get out and show everyone at the Hockey4Friendship tournament what they learned throughout a long year of on-ice training.
“These kids just love being on the ice,” said volunteer coach Liam Hatheway. “They’re like any other kids, they just want to go out, and they want to play. This is sometimes the only organized sport they play all week.”
Hatheway, a 20-year-old Concordia Stingers baseball player, joined the Limmud Centre volunteer program nearly two months ago. Alongside several Stingers hockey alumnus, he taught the kids once a week at Bill Durnan. But it was much more than skills training and skating technique, explains Hatheway.
“We’re teaching them not just hockey but life skills too, and I really think all the kids are going to benefit from it,” said Hatheway.
The Limmud Centre is an after school, homeschooling facility. It provides boys from the nearby Lubavitcher Yeshiva with supplemental education in English, French, math, science and social sciences.
Last summer, Devorah Feldman, the centre’s founder and executive director, introduced a baseball program to diversify the schools options. Feldman says the program was an overwhelming success, so she decided to expand into hockey.
Concordia Stingers baseball coach Howard Schwartz, who helps run the centre’s baseball program, connected Feldman with the Concordia Stingers men’s hockey team. She says it allowed her to follow the baseball model. She recruited high-level hockey instructors and built a program from the ground up.
“Our model back in the day and it continues to be excellent sports equals great staffing,” said Feldman. “A high quality program that is accessible for all of our kids whatever their levels, abilities and skill set.”
Before the boys stepped onto the ice Leibele Rodal, one of the tournament organizers, gave a rousing speech in the locker room. Rodal is the executive director assistant of Friendship Circle Montreal – a community that provides a safe, non-judgmental environment for people with special needs to cultivate relationships.
Rodal, who has two boys on the Limmud Centre hockey team, fired up the kids by explaining to them the significance of their presence at the tournament. They’ve learned how to skate and stick handle since September, but, more importantly, they’re learning the meaning of acceptance and inclusion, he says.
“I told the kids that being here today is not just about having fun and getting to play in front of a crowd,” said Rodal. “But truly what they’re doing is something special, and that is celebrating looking beyond the surface, the differences.”
Rodal says he partnered with the Limmud Centre because he believes in Feldman’s philosophy. The school is open-minded and the staff is often thinking outside of the box. The boys have an opportunity to leave a special mark on the community, he said.
“When you step on the ice you’re not just playing hockey, you’re creating inclusion in Montreal,” he told the team.