Jets Wives and Girlfriends make a difference volunteering with the WJHA

March 28, 2024 10:15 am by Payton Robinson Dynamic Featured Image

As Sydney Appleton, Ally Petack and Megan Rodgers head toward dressing room 7 at hockey for all centre, the sounds of cheers and excitement echo down the hall as girls strap on their hockey equipment. The kids light up when they see them enter the dressing room.

“Coach Sydney!” “Coach Ally!” “Coach Megan!”

A warm hug from one of the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy (WJHA) students greets the partners of Winnipeg Jets players Mason Appleton, Kyle Connor, and Gabe Vilardi as they arrive to help the program’s student athletes lace up their skates and get ready for their weekly hockey session.

“We have a good group of kids and I love helping them out,” said Appleton. “I love seeing their first session on the ice and watching them grow their skills as the sessions go on.”

The trio supports a class of Grade 4/5 student athletes from Crestview School. More than learning hockey, their weekly ice times with the WJHA help to build comradery and a sense of community among their teammates. Appleton stresses that being part of a team was an essential part of her childhood, having grown up playing hockey with family and friends.

“I think it’s really important to experience what it means to be part of a team, whether that be sharing tape or friendly competition — it’s all things that you can take and apply to school or life in general,” she said.

More than a helping hand to snap on helmets and tighten skates, the students look up to the women, not only for hockey guidance but for support, encouragement and connection – whether it’s talking about their day or getting their hair braided.

“They still call us ‘coach’ even though we aren’t here to coach them (on the ice),” said Petack. “I like to refer to myself as their bigger sister, where they can rely on us to talk about how their day is going.”

It’s undecided who gets more out of the experience — the coaches or the kids.

“Every single day is different which keeps it interesting. I look forward to hitting the rink and seeing those kids light up with excitement. They are hilarious, and they keep me laughing non-stop,” said Rodgers.

With the WJHA season winding down in a few months, Appleton, Petack, and Rodgers express how much they will miss this group but look forward to bonding with a new group of student athletes next season.

“When I hear the kids call me ‘coach Ally,’ I could stay here with them all day – they’re awesome and I get excited every time I come to help.”