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PURSUIT: For Newmarket Nighthawks, hockey is about having fun

Special Hockey International (SHI) league provides developmentally challenged players the opportunity to play hockey in an environment that prioritizes having fun over winning games

With cooler temperatures around the corner, it can only mean one thing for the Newmarket Nighthawks.

It’s time to take flight. 

The Nighthawks provide developmentally challenged players in Newmarket with the opportunity to play hockey in an environment that prioritizes having fun over winning games. The organization competes in the Special Hockey International (SHI) league and sometimes faces off against competition from around the world. 

The hockey club divides its athletes into three divisions based solely on a player's skill set. Athletes who are new to the sport start off in the junior division; this group usually ranges between the ages of 15 to 25. The intermediate division consists mostly of players who are slightly older than the junior level with a little more skill. The senior division features the most talented players with games that most closely resemble an official hockey game. 

“Over the years, a number of those players that were juniors have now become intermediates and some have become senior level,” said Terry Porter, a coach and director with the Nighthawks. “It’s all ability based so it doesn't matter what age your son or daughter happens to be. It’s about trying to find a fit for them within the three categories that we run.”

Like some of the other volunteers with the Nighthawks, Porter became involved with the club because he wanted his son, who has special needs, to start playing hockey. He eventually found a home with the Nighthawks. Since then, he has worked hard to promote the club and encourage new players to join. 

The Nighthawks practise and play their home games on Saturdays at Magna Centre. The season usually starts in October with a few weeks of practices before ramping up with home and away games against other teams in southern Ontario. 

Porter is also hoping to attend a big three-day tournament in Kitchener this upcoming season, as well as the SHI annual tournament in Boston that welcomes more than 70 teams from across North America and Europe.

In the SHI, there is no trophy or prize for the winner because the focus is on playing hockey and having fun. This has been the ultimate goal for the club since Bob and Kim Mackenzie and Mike and Deb Young founded the team in 2003.

“Our players know if we get into a situation where we’re dominating in a game, I’ll tell them on the bench to switch it off and that it’s time to allow the other team to have some fun out there,” said Porter. “It's never about winning a game 15-0.”

With a new season quickly approaching, Porter encourages players to come check out a game or practice on Saturdays to get a first-hand experience of Nighthawks’ hockey. There are no tryouts or skill requirements to play, the only condition is that a player must be six years of age or older. 

“If you want to get your son or daughter involved in ice hockey, it’s a perfect way to allow them to enjoy a sport that maybe they don’t have a chance to get involved in," said Porter. 

Other benefits of the club include a great fundraising program and a large collection of equipment for parents to help ease the financial burden of suiting up for hockey. The Nighthawks are also a great option for high school students looking for coaching opportunities to fulfil their community service hours. 

The club hopes their teams continue to grow in the coming years and more players discover the benefits of Nighthawks’ hockey. Furthermore, Porter and the organization hope to continue proving that when it comes to hockey, it’s never offside to have fun.