Gus Ascroft is starting a special needs hockey team for his daughter

Gus Ascroft is starting a special needs hockey team for his daughter

Giving all kids a chance to play hockey

Newcomer to Victoria starting special needs hockey in Colwood

Newcomer to Victoria starting special needs hockey in Colwood

When Georgia Ascroft hears her father mention the word “hockey” her face lights up.

“I like skating the best,” she says with an ear-to-ear grin.

It took six years for Gus Ascroft to get his daughter Georgia interested in skating, an 11-year-old with Down Syndrome and autism. It took hockey to get her on the ice. “She just wasn’t interested until there was a puck there.”

At their home last year in Kamloops, getting Georgia on a team wasn’t easy – mainstream hockey was too busy, but her father found a hockey team specifically for developmentally challenged children, the Okanagan Wildcats.

After moving to Saanich this year, Gus searched for a similar program, but it didn’t exist, so decided to create one himself. “If you want to do something these days you have to do it yourself,” Gus said.

The elder Ascroft quickly found ice time in Greater Victoria was tough to secure, especially during the day. He admits it was frustrating. “The only time I could get was 4 a.m. on a Thursday,” Gus remarked.

Fortunately he met up with with Kevin De Jong, president of Puckmasters in Colwood, who had been looking into offering hockey programs for special needs people. The facility has a half-size hockey rink.

“We want to help out another group that can love the game,” De Jong said. “We train anyone from band new players to pros. We want these kids to be a part of something.”

Gus wants to create an inclusive, special needs hockey team based at Puckmasters, for any developmentally challenged kid from across Greater Victoria.

“With hockey Georgia is part of a group and she’s accepted. It’s a community theme with physical activity … We are hoping she can make some friendships,” Gus said. “Some of the biggest hockey fans are special needs.”

Gus also noted many special needs kids spend hours at the rink watching their siblings hockey games and never get the chance to get on the ice. “Even if they are helped when they are hitting the puck, they are still playing.”

The team is looking for players younger than 16 years old. Seven players are already signed up, some as young as five.  The team is looking for a roster of about 16 players.

Parental participation is required and the players do not need any experience with skating or hockey. “I am expecting 90 per cent of the kids can’t skate,” Gus said. “Just come out and try.”

For each practice players will suit up in full hockey gear. If families are unable to purchase gear, Gus and De Jong said they will help find subsidy or donated gear.

“We want this to be a real hockey practice, not just play time,” Gus said.

Similar teams already play in Nanaimo, Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops.

“If we can get a presentable team then we will do some fundraising and play some tournaments,” Gus said.

Gus, 52, has been playing hockey since he was seven years old. He played in minor hockey up to junior-B and still dabbles in the game recreationally. As a career he is a Zamboni driver and “ice man,” as he calls it.

The team’s first practice is Saturday, Jan. 7 at 10 a.m. at Puckmasters. The cost is $125 and runs until the end of March.

For more information on the team call Puckmasters at 250-590-2774. Puckmasters is in the process of creating programs for physically challenged players as well.