A group in Calgary has found the perfect way to share our national winter sport with some young people who may not always get to play with their peers.

The Super HEROS program comes from the Hockey Education Reaching Out Society and it’s the perfect sort of game that can let 11-year-old Sam, who has Down syndrome, get out on the ice to play.

“She’s eager to go,” says her dad ,Tim Webber. “She’s packing her bag Saturday night, ready to go play hockey.”

“I like the drills,” Sam says.

Super HEROS is the organization’s first adapted hockey program that provides opportunities to kids with cognitive challenges like autism and Down syndrome, but also includes kids with physical disabilities.

“This wasn’t really on the radar for us even a year ago. And the parent of one of our kids that is in the program now had been looking for a place for their child to play,” says Kevin Hodgson, executive director of HEROS. “As we got talking, we talked about how important it would be for the child to play. I just said, ‘How come they’re not playing?’ And he just said, ‘Because there isn’t anywhere.’”

The sessions are run by volunteer coaches and the 21 kids enrolled in the program get to have fun doing whatever they like.

“You can’t realize a kid’s potential unless you give them the opportunity. These kids were always stuck behind the glass. They were always their siblings greatest fans or they were hockey fans from afar and they never thought they would get to play,” Hodgson says.

Webber says that with his daughter out playing hockey, he gets to achieve one of his own dreams.

“I get to be a hockey dad. It’s a cool experience,” he says. “You get up every Sunday morning, ready to go and watch your kid play hockey.”

Hodgson says Super HEROS has also helped families immensely.

“We didn’t realize the impact it was going to have on whole families. We still have moms in the hallway crying or grandmas in the hallway crying, not believing that their kid or grandchild is able to play the game because some of them have been waiting 16 years to play.”

HEROS is looking to expand its hockey programs and is looking at opening them in Regina and Edmonton in the fall.

(With files from Jordan Kanygin)