A team of young helpers is on duty at the rink to give behind-the-scenes help to the Nelson Leafs.
Volunteers Hayden Whitman and Aedan Osika are the devoted equipment managers for the local KIJHL team. No regular afterschool job, this role gets the boys right into the thick of local hockey action.
“It is just really cool being down there with the players,” said Osika, a 12-year-old hockey player with the peewee rep team who loves being shown the ropes.
Osika and Whitman, 14, fell into the role during the 2008 to 2009 championship year when they got their start as water boys.
“We went to every game because we just love hockey and we used to hang out, like most of the kids, by the player benches to high-five the players,” said Whitman. “The water boy saw us there and he was short on people helping him out so he invited us down.”
They were invited to help again and again until finally they officially became water boys.
Whitman and Osika have known each other since before they can remember.
Whitman is in Grade 9 at Self Design High. And Osika is home schooled. When the two come together at the rink they do a myriad of behind-the-scenes work.
From hanging up the jerseys and putting out the game socks to tackling laundry and making sure the dressing room is clean. They set out pucks for warm up and deliver the official pucks to the penalty box for game time. The list goes on.
Of all the jobs, Whitman loves taking care of errands for the coach during the game.
“Official work is always pretty cool — delivering paperwork for the coaches,” he said. “And I am always a fan of the road trips.”
Osika enjoys road trips as well. They help pack the bus and then find their very own seats to ride along. The duo feel very appreciated for the work they do.
“The team is really grateful, I find,” said Osika.
But not every job is fun.
“I’ve got to say, after six years, filling the water bottles has gotten a bit boring so I am never too upset to hand that over to one of the younger kids,” said Whitman.
The job is a volunteer position but Whitman said it comes with many perks and that’s what it’s all about. They stay in hotels on the road, are fed and of course, get admission to the games. And the two get to know the players quite well.
Whitman said some are reserved and shy and some are “totally out there.” His favourite player this season is forward Austin Lindsay.
“I like how he plays. I like his personality,” he said.
Their time with the team is having quite an impact. The boys still remember that first year when they took on the role as water boys because it was a championship year. The Leafs beat out Kamloops Storm in game four.
“It was amazing,” said Whitman. “We went through the playoffs in 17 games and we only lost one game through the entire playoffs. It was great.”
The two look forward to the Cyclone Taylor Cup being hosted by the Leafs in April 2014.
“It will be really cool to check out these teams from all over,” Whitman said. “It will be a full weekend of hockey after the season is already over and of course, I am excited because it’s a chance for the Leafs get more media attention at a professional level.”
Osika remembers attending the Cyclone Taylor Cup when the Leafs finished second to Richmond in 2009. He can’t wait to watch the tournament play out on local ice.
“I am really excited for it,” he said.
“I think we have a good shot at it this year.”
The boys plan to continue their role with the team as long as possible.
“I love it. Every second of my time spent down at the rink is just amazing,” said Whitman. Added Osika, “They do play good hockey. It’s nice to see that and to be able to help them.”