The Central IcePak are having a tough time of it in the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League this season, with only a couple of wins so far through 16 games, but lack of effort or dedication certainly isn’t the reason for the team’s woes.
In fact, a lot of athletes across the province could learn a thing or two from the IcePak players — include Central’s AAA bantams and peewees in the mix as well — for their passion and commitment to the game.
That was evident yet again last weekend when 15-year-old forward Damian Freake of Fogo, faced with the prospects of not getting to an IcePak practice in Lewisporte, hitched a ride on Rod Rowe’s fishing boat for the one-hour steam from Seldom on Fogo Island across to Farewell.
Then it was another 60-minute drive for Freake and his parents to the rink in Lewisporte.
Such sacrifice is nothing new to the kids and parents from Central. In fact, the hockey players and their families from Western and Tri-Pen all face the same geographical problems, meaning a lengthy commute is often necessary if the players hope to get to games and practices.
In the case of the Central major midget team, it is owned and operated by the Town of Lewisporte, and all games and practices are staged in the local arena.
The geographical area from which Central chooses its team is one of the largest in the major midget league, attracting players from Harbour Breton and St. Albans, to Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander, up to Fogo Island.
Lucas Dominie of Harbour Breton faces a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive, one way, to get to practice in Lewisporte, which runs from 7:30-9 p.m., every Tuesday and Thursday. Ryan Hoskins of St. Albans has about a two-run run, one way, to the Lewisporte Arena.
In other words, these kids and parents are on the road four or six hours twice weekly for a pair of 90-minute skates.
“Virtually all the kids have to make sacrifices,” said IcePak major midget manager Phonse Hanlon of Glenwood. “It says a lot for their dedication.”
Years ago, when Mark Hunter, the current Toronto Maple Leafs executive and former St. John’s Maple Leafs coach, was involved with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, when the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League didn’t have exclusive rights to players from Newfoundland and Labrador, he would sometimes travel to central Newfoundland to scout players.
The reason? Hunter said he knew the sacrifices the athletes from that area had to make to play hockey, which spoke volumes of their commitment to the game.
“Virtually all the kids have to make sacrifices. It says a lot for their dedication.”
Central IcePak manager Phonse Hanlon
Last week, the MV Beaumont Hamel was being held up at Fogo Island by disgruntled ferry users, upset with the province’s planned changes to the overall ferry schedule. The protest cost Damian Freake a chance to get to practice, but he wasn’t about to miss a pair of IcePak games in St. John’s against the East Coast Blizzard last weekend.
“Rod (Rowe) happened to be going across, so he told us to jump in his boat,” said Damian’s mother, Denise Freake. “Damian wanted to get to his hockey.”
The Freakes had left one of their vehicles near the Farewell ferry stop.
Going the extra distance is, like a lot of players from the region who play AAA and major midget hockey, nothing new to the Freake family.
It’s a four-hour commitment for every practice (an hour by ferry, followed by a 60-minute drive to Lewisporte), and it usually means missing the last ferry crossing back to Fogo in the evening.
As a result, the Freakes have parked their camper at Farewell. That means staying in the trailer that night, and catching the first ferry in the morning for school at Fogo Island Central Academy and work.
With the evenings getting much colder, the Freakes have taken their camper back home to Fogo. On nights when the IcePak practice, the family will be staying with friends in Gander.
“Damian dearly loves his hockey,” his mother said. “Whatever it takes.”
The family, however, faces a bigger problem with the ferry service. No longer is there a 4:30 p.m. run from Fogo Tuesdays and Thursdays, only a 6:30 departure, meaning Freake won’t make it to Lewisporte in time for practice.
He could leave at 2 p.m., but that would mean taking him from school twice a week at lunchtime.
“And we can’t do that,” said his mother. “He may miss practices. Hopefully, they can work it out. That (schedule changes) was what the protest was about.”
This weekend, the IcePak and the other four teams from the major midget loop are in Moncton, N.B., for the annual Monctonian AAA Challenge, for midget and bantam teams.
Safe to say a flight to Halifax and a bus ride to Moncton amounted to a piece of cake for the kids from Central.