Christmas usually comes only once a year, but for the Barrhead Atom ‘A’ Hawks, Jan. 3 was as close to a second Christmas as they’ll get.
Edmonton Oilers’ forwards Steve MacIntyre, Ryan Jones and defenceman Jeff Petry joined the local squad for a Monday night practice at the Barrhead Agrena. It was meant to be a surprise, said coach Trevor Steinbring, The kids didn’t know, and neither did any of the parents outside of the coaching staff.
Bringing National Hockey League players to Barrhead was a plan in the works for almost an entire year, Steinbring said. MacIntyre is a friend of Hawks assistant coach Dave Schmidt, and it took some time to work out a date to bring the hockey professionals to town.
“Obviously, these guys are very busy with their schedules,” Steinbring said. “At the last minute, Steve could finally make it, and he asked if he could bring out a couple other guys with him. Of course, we didn’t object to that.”
The Oilers showed up at approximately 7:30 p.m. and skated with the kids until roughly 8:45 p.m., Steinbring said. All three NHL players then spent about an hour signing autographs in the dressing room and in the front lobby.
“It was a really great night,” Steinbring said. “We just told the kids it was a mandatory practice, and that they had to come. We got the kids suited up and on the ice before our guests arrived, and got them going in what they thought was a regular practice.”
That’s when the staff snuck the Oilers players into the dressing room.
“Then they just walked onto the ice, and we told the kids we had some extra help for the practice,” Steinbring said. “The kids were pretty excited, and they recognized them very quickly.”
At first glace, the Hawks seemed a bit stunned at the presence of the NHL players, and they didn’t know what to think, Steinbring said.
There was a definite nervous energy floating around the ice, but the NHLers “are pretty loose guys, and they got the kids relaxed quite quickly. Then there were lots of smiles, and things just took off from there,” he said.
MacIntyre, Jones and Petry joined in the practice, and they participated in some drills, including a few shootouts and a scrimmage. They provided a few tips, but they mostly just joined in with the Hawks, and showed off a few fancy moves on the shootouts, Steinbring said.
“It was awesome,” said Barr-head Hawk Mitch Carstairs. “It was pretty cool having them come out and play with us. It was a whole bunch of fun. MacIntyre was like five strides and he was down the ice. I was shocked that they came out.
Fellow Hawks Robert Geis and Owen Weeks echoed that sentiment.
“It was awesome standing next to them,” Geis said. “They were like 10 times faster than us. I’ll never forget this.”
“At first, I thought it was just a joke, and then I saw the guys and I was like ‘wow,’” Weeks said. “They were really nice guys.”
“The Oilers players were incredible. I have nothing but rave reviews for those guys. They really made the kids’ night, and they did everything just like they were part of the team. They had lots of fun with the kids, and fooled around with them, and made them feel like they were on top of the world,” Steinbring said.
Steinbring added the kids weren’t the only ones who got something out of the evening, because the parents all really enjoyed themselves, too.
“From what I heard, none of the kids were able to relax that night,” Steinbring said. “This might have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we were just lucky to be a part of it.”