Life has come full circle for Jason McCrimmon.
Coming up through the hockey ranks as a youngster in Detroit, he played for the Detroit Rockies out of the Jack Adams Ice Arena in Detroit and went on to play professionally for six years. McCrimmon ended his hockey career in 2011-12 after one season with the Danbury Whalers of the Federal Hockey League.
Even after his playing days were over, McCrimmon knew he wanted to stay in the game. He found his way back to Detroit.
With the Detroit Hockey Association struggling and starting to dissolve, McCrimmon was contacted by hockey parent Cynthia Wardlaw.
“I didn’t want there not to be any hockey in the city of Detroit, so I asked Jason if he could come and help me start a program,” Wardlaw said.
And the rest is history. In 2014, the duo launched Detroit Ice Dreams Youth Hockey Association, Inc. The organization plays out of the Jack Adams Memorial Arena — which is located on the city’s west side — the same rink at which McCrimmon first laced up his skates.
McCrimmon and Wardlaw had an avenue to get kids in Detroit involved in hockey, they just needed to start attracting players.
“Most kids don’t consider hockey as a sport for our community to participate in,” said Wardlaw, the Detroit Ice Dreams’ co-founder and vice president. “A lot of times when you go in for recruitment and talk to people about hockey, most of them don’t want to try it. It’s really trying to encourage them and let them try something different. Most of the time when they do, the kids love it.”
Detroit Ice Dreams is continually trying to create more awareness for its program through the local schools.
“It’s us finding that common ground with parents to be able to let their kids try something different that’s not football or basketball or something in the city our kids would normally play because of the expense to it,” said McCrimmon, the organization’s co-founder and president. “That’s the reason why we do a lot of stuff with the sponsorships and grants that we get from Hockey is For Everyone, the NHL, USA Hockey, that helps us out to be able to make it much more affordable for our kids to be able to try out.”
Detroit Ice Dreams is always trying to attract new players. It certainly helps the organization to have an ex-professional hockey player at the forefront.
“It’s really amazing and it’s really encouraging,” said Wardlaw, who had a son and daughter both play in the program. “It’s encouraging to our kids that they can have the opportunity to able to use hockey as a way for them to secure scholarships for schooling and play college hockey or maybe even go on even further to play some professionally whether that’d be overseas, the NHL or whatever.
“It gives them hope, that’s important.”
In just four short years, the Detroit Ice Dreams have built a strong program. There are about 30 kids ages 3-17 who play on a regular basis plus another 10 kids in a learn-to-skate class.
A lot of the youngsters who first skate with the program love it so much they continue to play for the Detroit Ice Dreams.
“We get more kids to trickle in, but we have retained the kids that we started with,” Wardlaw said.
Detroit Ice Dreams runs two teams — mites and squirts — which consist of boys and girls. Both squads compete in the Little Caesars Amateur Hockey League. McCrimmon is hoping to add a 12U team to the program this spring.
The kids are able to skate Mondays and Saturdays and every other Wednesday if ice time is available.
Along with playing hockey, the kids with the Detroit Ice Dreams are being taught the importance of doing well in school and staying away from trouble. They’re taught they don’t have to be a superstar to give back to their community.
“We want our kids to be successful on and off the ice,” Wardlaw said. “We do a lot of community involvement. We make sure that our kids go volunteer at homeless shelters. We gave out blessing bags to the homeless, give out turkeys. We stress that our kids need to be a part of their community and give back and be productive members of society.”
For the last four Thanksgivings, kids in the program have distributed 100 turkeys. The young players also help out families in need at Christmas.
McCrimmon and Wardlaw make sure the kids are on track in school, doing well in class and finishing their homework.
“If any time any of our players are struggling, we try to get them some tutoring, because we do have some parents and people I’ve met over the years that I’ve been involved with hockey, so if they need tutoring, we try to do that,” Wardlaw said. “You can use leverage sometimes because the kids enjoy it. ‘You’ve got to do your homework, you’ve got to get your work done if you want to continue to play hockey.’”
McCrimmon loves helping out the players, watching them grow and become successful as if they are his own kids.
“Even though you didn’t actually birth them, but you’re in a situation where you see the struggles that they go through and the obstacles they overcome to be the players that they are now,” McCrimmon said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.