The excitement around the gym at École Brodeur School in Esquimalt was palpable Monday night, as players with the Victoria Special Olympics played alongside some of their heroes with the Victoria Royals.
This annual event, during which players from the Western Hockey League club mix with those from this community organization, is a highlight of the season for both groups. The smiles are plentiful through the ranks of the players and also amongst the parents and caregivers watching on the sidelines.
“You can sense the electricity, so to speak, when you come in … everyone has that extra energy, that extra pep in their step,” said Kyle Eriksen. He’s the volunteer head coach for the organization’s recreational and competitive floor hockey groups, which total roughly 40 individuals.
One of the competitive players, Matthew Schultz, is like most of his teammates a huge Royals fan – he and many others wore their Victoria jerseys for the occasion – and Matthew Phillips is his favourite player.
Asked how much fun he was having, Schultz said “a boatload,” adding he always looks forward to this event. While he hadn’t yet scored, he was looking to put one past his teammate, Leslie, wearing a Royals jersey in the opposing net on this night.
Royals captain Matthew Phillips, playing for a second time in the annual games, called it a “special event” that means a lot to he and his teammates.
“We have a ton of fun and they seem to really enjoy it as well, so it’s awesome to get to come out here,” he said. “I think when you have the opportunity that we have to help out in the community and be present and meet some new people, then it’s definitely something you want to go for every time you can.”
Phillips said with a chuckle that the Special Olympics players know a lot about the Royals, from their statistics to their style of play.
Eriksen said his players are also excited about their upcoming floor hockey tournament, March 17 and 18 in the Comox Valley. It’s a regional qualifier for the 2019 B.C. Special Olympics Games in Vernon and “the first step” in a road that for some leads to the Winter Special Olympics World Games.
On this night, however, the coach appreciated the efforts of the junior players to join his group for some fun games.
“It’s great to see these Royals coming out and being great guys and showing how ready they are for the next step themselves,” he said. “It’s awesome to see these guys be class acts like this.”
Not only do Royals players give their time to play, the team provides Victoria Special Olympics with specially priced tickets for WHL games. Eriksen said the swimming group and curling team often join floor hockey players for the night out.
“It’s a fun way to get everyone out in a casual environment with some friends and enjoy a good game of hockey,” he said.
For more about Victoria Special Olympics, visit specialolympics.bc.ca/local/sobc-victoria.