PORT McNEILL—It did not take long for Port McNeill Minor Hockey coaches and families to make James Speck feel comfortable.
So Speck wasted no time in providing a bit of comfort for the association’s atom and peewee players and coaches.
Speck, a fisheries officer from Alert Bay, recently donated a complete set of hoodie sweatshirts to the two clubs, hoodies that he custom-crafted on his own press and silk screen.
“It was coming to the practices and games and seeing the kindness and the effort of the coaches on behalf of the kids,” said Speck, whose grandson, Chris Speck, began skating this season for the peewee Storm hockey team.
“I wanted to give something back.”
Purchasing the sweatshirts from a supplier in Vancouver, Speck adorned them with the Port McNeill Minor Hockey logo on the chest, the team names — “Storm” for the peewees and “Icebreakers” for the atoms — along each front pocket, and each player’s name and number on the back.
He also added “coach” down the sleeves of each of the coaches’ hoodies.
“I think it’s pretty special,” said Kevin Laird, a PMMHA executive and atom team manager who has children on both squads.
“He’s from Alert Bay, so he’s not centred in this community. But I think he feels assimilated into the program and the town.”
Speck’s grandson is part of a larger turnout of skaters from Alert Bay who have recently joined the program.
It began with a few players last season, and Laird believes the program has at least 10 Cormorant Island skaters this season.
“I think the kids that came over and played last year went back and told all their friends how much fun they had,” Laird said. “I feel it’ll expand even more next year.”
Without a hometown rink, Alert Bay’s prospective skaters must overcome the obstacles of time, cost and ferry travel to play in Port McNeill.
But Speck said his community’s children have been welcomed with open arms by the other players, families and coaching staff.
The longtime youth soccer coach on Cormorant Island repeatedly mentioned how impressed he was by Port McNeill’s volunteer hockey coaches.
“I’ve never seen this, ever, in my years of coaching, how well everyone gets along,” he said. “These coaches deserve a lot of credit.”
After deciding he wanted to donate something to the program, Speck finally settled on sweatshirts after talking with association coaches and officials.
He initially made a set for Chris’s peewee teammates, then talked to Laird about doing something similar for the atoms.
“The atoms were willing to pay for ’em,” Speck said.
“But by the time I was done, my heart wasn’t in taking any money from them.
“It’s almost like an extended family for me — that’s how I look at it.”