The team at the Canucks Autism Network wanted to send a huge thank you to Deb and the Pee Wee players and coaches that played in the exhibition game at the VMHA Canuck Place Charity Tournament.
Everyone from VMHA welcomed the Canucks Autism Network players and families so warmly, which was really helpful as both players and parents were nervous about their game. These players don’t play games often (they do one adapted hockey tournament at the end of their season — their season is run similarly to H1), so this game was a BIG deal for them.
We had an opportunity to chat with the VMHA PW team before the game, and we just told them to have fun, and try their best not to dominate the CAN team, and to give players who were clearly really new a chance. They had questions like “How do we go easy on a player, but not make it obvious so they don’t feel bad?”, which showed their empathy and respect.
As coaches/staff, we were honestly a little nervous as well, because it would be a challenge to play against the huge range of skill level on the CAN team — from kids who could barely skate, to some who were crying on the bench wanting to go home, to some who were scoring some legit goals on the PW team!
When the kids got on the ice, we saw that we had NOTHING to worry about. The VMHA kids matched the skill level of each player, giving the stronger players a challenge, while letting the newer players get a chance to take the puck and shoot on the goalie. They cheered on the CAN team every time they scored a goal, and they gave the CAN goalie pats on the heads and fist bumps every time he made a great stop on the VMHA team.
It was a pretty emotional watching the game, knowing that many of our players with autism struggle in their day to day lives with their school, daily living, and social skills. Individuals with autism are 3 times more likely to be bullied by their peers, 30% more likely to experience depression/anxiety, and 40% more likely to become obese because participating in physical activity can be a challenge.
The grace, empathy, and inclusiveness that the VMHA athletes showed for the entire 1.5 hour duration of that ice time was more than I could have ever imagined. They made the CAN Players felt valuable, skilled, and accomplished. VMHA should be so proud of those kids. And it sounded like they had a lot of fun too, because they asked if they could play again soon!