The University of Windsor Lancers Men’s Hockey team completed their mission in the Nicola Valley on Sunday, September 4. The team helped rebuild four properties across the surrounding First Nations in Merritt. As part of their mission, the Lancers have also collaborated with the Merritt Centennials to host their Lancers Hockey Academy and their Lancers Against Bullying presentation at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. 

From Tuesday, August 30, to Thursday, September 1, the Lancers ran their skills camp at Merritt’s local arena. With the help of FNES, kids from the surrounding Indigenous communities were able to experience top level hockey training from a university-level program. 

“I can tell you that anyone fortunate enough to go on the ice with our coaching staff is going to love it,” said Kevin Hamlin, Head Coach of the Lancers. 

The Lancers coaching staff boasts years of experience playing hockey in the NHL, a level many young players aspire to reach in the future. Roughly 20 kids attended the camp each of the three days. There were three members of the Lancers coaching staff, two players from the Lancers roster, and four players from the Cents assisting with the clinic. 

“We’ve asked the Centennials to help out in the dressing room and on the ice,” said Hamlin. “They acted as our counselors on the ice as all of our players are on the worksites, with the exception of the ones delivering our presentation.” 

Before each clinic, the Lancers presented their ‘Lancers Against Bullying’ program. An initiative that the club has been running, speaking on the issue of bullying among the youth.

“We decided to develop this program about a decade ago,” Hamlin explained. “Basically, we ask our players to present to the kids of Windsor-Essex County. The message seems to resonate at a completely different level when these athletes talk to the kids as opposed to the principals, teachers, and others.”

Hamlin mentioned that the program has been running for eight years which speaks to the relevance of the issue as kids and young adults still face it today. 

“As a principal for 17 years, I can tell you that bullying happens everywhere,” he said. “No matter what socio-economic status you come from. Whether you are rich or poor, it doesn’t matter.”

The success of the presentations have led to the development of other programs done by the team: ‘Lancers Shut Out Domestic Violence,’ which tackles the identification, intervention, and prevention of domestic violence, and ‘Skate Against Hate’, the Lancers’ anti-discrimination program.

“I think it’s amazing what they’re doing.” said Curtis Toneff, head coach for the Merritt Centennials.  “While preparing for a season, they are doing this work six to eight hours a day, in the heat, it’s pretty remarkable.”

In preparing for their upcoming season, the Lancers were given access to the arena to run their training camp at night. The Centennials were invited to come in and watch the team practice. 

“I want our players to see what the college level practice is all about and educate them on what it takes to get there,“ said Toneff. 

“Our guys, most of the time, are thinking about NCAA Division 1, whereas this is USport, which I argue can be just as good or better. I want our guys to soak it up because this just serves as another option for them.”

The Lancers spent 10 days in the Nicola Valley for their mission. This type of trip is not new to the hockey club as they have done other outreach missions in the past. One of which were multiple trips taken down to New Orleans to help some people recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. 

“This experience for us has been life changing,” said Hamlin. “It’s been a tremendous educational experience from our first day here where we visited the Kamloops residential schools and heard some stories of survivors and walk those grounds. We hope now with this education that we can go back and educate others.”