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Hockey Sask. hopes to expand new Para Program at provincial tryouts by encouraging 'all' to attend

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Hockey Saskatchewan (Hockey Sask.) has announced the launch of a new Sask. First Para Program for able and non-able-bodied athletes and is hosting open tryouts this weekend for anyone to come give the sport a try.

The first-ever provincial camp will be held this week in Outlook, Sask. on Dec. 17.

“That’s one of our values is being inclusive. We approached Saskatchewan Wheelchair Sports, we’ve been involved with them for some time, and we said we’ve been doing a lot of ‘Try Para Days’, ‘Try Sledge Days’, around the province for years,” Sask. Hockey Association general manager Kelly McClintock said.

“We’ve got 25 sleds that we go out and do presentations with, how about we get involved with this,” McClintock explained.

“Kids can go and try out and we’ll create a team. We’ve got some coaches in place. This will be the first time they do that organization and they’ll go to a national event in May in Ontario,” he added.

McClintock is referring to creating a provincial team from the camp. That team will be will represent the province as Team Saskatchewan at the national championships in May in Port Colborne, Ont.

He added that right now it’s about growing the game and getting as many people out to try the sport and that despite registration closing they will not turn athletes away who want to try out.

“We want anybody to come out and try because when it comes down to the game itself, if you’re capable let’s get you on the ice. It’s showing being inclusive of not just able-bodied and para-athletes, or somebody with a disability. but someone of any age as well,” McClintock said.

McClintock said he uses the terms para and sledge because it could be both someone who is defined as a para-athlete and an able-bodied person who wants to play.

The program also helps serve as a gateway to Hockey Canada’s National Para Team (NPT) for athletes with lower-body disabilities who then have the chance to represent Team Canada on the international stage.

Regina Avengers is a para hockey club that was started 12 years ago in the city.

Rick Bolianatz and his wife decided to create the program after discovering one of their twin sons had a disability.

“I think it’s a great step forward because we get to compete against teams all across Canada and they are happy to see our team come into the league now because they’ve never seen a Saskatchewan team at that level of play,” Bolianatz said.

“My whole focus for our program is to get them when they’re young and hopefully if they’re able to get them up and into that [level of play],” he added.

The head coach of the Regina Avengers noted that Hockey Saskatchewan has been in the works of taking over the sport in the province.

“They (Hockey Saskatchewan) have been doing a lot of promoting of the sport. They have gentlemen that go around to different communities, schools, stuff like that,” Bolianatz said.

One of the Regina Avengers’ athletes, Jared Aquin, will head to the provincial tryouts this weekend. The provincial team has been in existence for two years, but this will be the first time it is run by the Sask. First Hockey Program. Aquin has played on the provincial team both years so far.

“I’m not exactly sure how it will go [now that Sask. Hockey is running it] but I’m really excited to see what they can do to improve it,” Aquin said. “I’m hoping they can make it better and make it easier for players to afford it.”

Aquin explained that the sport is still not heavily recognized in the province but that he is excited for what the future brings.

“We have low numbers so we’re trying to get as many people as we can out there but we have a lot of fun players and a lot of talented players so I’m really excited to see how it goes,” he said.

“From year one to where we are now, the chemistry is really built up and as long as people keep coming back we’re going to keep the same core players, we’re going to be something really special,” he added.

The opportunity to represent the province of Saskatchewan is something Anquin also speaks proudly of.

“It’s an incredible experience being able to wear the green on your chest and that shield. It’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever felt. I’m very proud to be a part of that,” Aquin said.

The Sask. First Para Hockey Tryouts are from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday at the Jim Kook Recreation Complex in Outlook, Sask.

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