Highlighting First Nations Athletes: Aboriginal Youth Hockey Players Star in New TV Series
An upcoming television series featuring Aboriginal teenage hockey players is already being deemed a success even though the first episode has yet to be aired.
The series, titled Hit the Ice, will begin airing nationally in Canada in January on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.
The series, which will consist of 13 half-hour episodes, features 20 Aboriginal hockey players from across the country.
Hit the Ice follows these players, aged 16-18, as they attend a two-week training camp session. The main purpose of the camp is to get players some much needed recognition in the hopes they advance to a higher level of hockey.
The two-week camp, which was led John Chabot, an Algonquin and a former National Hockey League player, was held this past July and August.
"Three guys get tryout offers on screen at the end of the show," Chabot said.
In the weeks following the conclusion of the Hit the Ice filming, many others ended up receiving offers as well.
"Fifteen of the guys in the series are playing at a level much higher than they thought they would be this season," Chabot said.
More than 30 scouts from Major Junior A, Junior A and Junior B scouts from eastern Canada attended some segments of the Hit the Ice filming. And the majority of the show participants have benefitted by finding new hockey homes this season.
"Things have worked out rather well for most of them," said Chabot, who during his pro career suited up for the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, appearing in a total of 541 NHL contests.
Hit the Ice will be broadcast in both English and Cree. Chabot believes it won't just be hockey fans that will be tuning in to watch.
"It's a show about hockey but it's also teaching people about life lessons and what it takes to succeed," he said. "And they'll see a bunch of kids creating friendships that will last beyond the two weeks they were together."
Jason Brennan, the Hit the Ice producer and director, agrees the series will have a greater appeal than just to hockey fans.
"Hockey is the backdrop," he said. "But you're finding out a lot more about their character. It's about their personal journeys."
Brennan said the idea for the series first surfaced seven years ago, when he was working on a broadcast of the annual National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC). But it took this long for the idea to come to fruition in large part because of a lack of funding.
Brennan confirmed it cost $1 million to produce the series this year.
The series begins with Chabot offering spots to appear on the series to various players based on their performances at the 2012 NAHC, which were held in Saskatoon this past spring.
A total of 15 players were offered spots because of their play at the national tournament. The remaining spots were filled with players who submitted video tryouts. Those individuals did not compete in the NAHC.
Besides on-ice action, Hit the Ice will feature plenty of off-ice, team-building sessions that will be broadcast.
Among those that assisted during the summer filming sessions were five National Hockey League players, including Aaron Asham, a 34-year-old Metis. Asham has played for six NHL clubs during his pro career, including the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Other NHLers who appear in the series are Max Talbot (Philadelphia Flyers), Evander Kane (Winnipeg Jets), Chris Neil (Ottawa Senators) and Erik Gudbranson (Florida Panthers).
Brennan is pleased Hit The Ice met its expectations.
"The purpose of the show was for these players to get seen and hopefully get them to a higher level," he said.
"What helped them out was that they were in game shape when they went to their other tryout camps afterwards," Brennan said.
Series officials are hoping there will be another round of Hit the Ice filming next summer.
"We hope there will be a Season 2," Brennan said. "And not just because of the show but the experience we could give these kids."