Moose bring message of Project 11 to students

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

📝 by Daniel Fink | AHL On The Beat

The concept of a school-day game isn’t new in the AHL. An early puck drop, usually between 10 a.m. and noon, allows classes the opportunity to come out and enjoy a game of hockey along with a curriculum developed around the game. It’s a chance for learning to happen in a non-traditional setting.

The Manitoba Moose have participated in a number of these games over the years, but always on the road. That changed on Dec. 1, when the team hosted its first-ever school-day game, welcoming over 6,000 Winnipeg-area students — some traveling more than an hour — through the doors of Canada Life Centre.

For the educational component of the day at the rink, the Moose partnered with the True North Youth Foundation, and more specifically, Project 11.

“It’s such a great opportunity for us to bring that conversation around mental health outside of the classroom,” said Kerri Waldbauer, the coordinator of educational programs for Project 11. “There’s such great energy in here today, the kids are really excited to cheer on their Moose, but also to learn a little bit more about mental health along the way.”

Project 11 is inspired by former Moose and Winnipeg Jets player Rick Rypien’s idea to support mental health awareness for students from an early age, and aims to help them develop the understanding that they can positively influence their own mental wellness by learning skills and adopting healthy coping strategies into their lives. Currently, programming is available from kindergarten to Grade 8, in both English and French, and expansion continues with the development of a high-school curriculum.

Project 11 continues to evolve and grow as it provides classroom-ready programming at no cost to Manitoba teachers. In partnership with teachers, Project 11 is delivered in the classroom and now connects thousands of kids in Manitoba and beyond with a positive mental health curriculum.

Students in attendance at the game received messaging from teachers and fellow students. They heard from entertainer Cameron Hughes about the importance of cheering each other on. Students also learned about Rick Rypien and the formation of Project 11. Moose players answered questions submitted by students regarding mental health strategies.

“We’re really grateful (Moose players) have been connecting with kids in that way and inspiring them and sharing some of the strategies they use to stay well,” continued Waldbauer.

For some teachers, bringing their class to the game was an opportunity to get their students excited and engaged with the Project 11 curriculum being taught in classrooms. Classes from Arborg Early Middle Years School drove 118 kilometers (73 miles) to attend the game.

“I know I have a lot of hockey fans in my class, that’s for sure. So that was one thing,” explained teacher Cheryl Bates. “We just started Project 11 in our classroom this year so that’s another reason. I wanted to bring them here to hype them up and get them excited. And it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do a field trip like this. It’s been a couple years, so it’s an exciting opportunity.”

Bringing the conversation about mental health outside the classroom, to a non-traditional learning environment like Canada Life Centre, also helps to show students mental health is important in all settings. Bringing together over 6,000 students has the added benefit of building more of a community around the idea that we are not alone in taking care of our mental health.

“The take-away I hope for the kids, besides that this was a fun day and a chance to be away from school, is that they see the value of speaking up when they need help,” said Blair Mensforth, the middle-school principal of Faith Academy. Over 90 percent of Faith Academy Middle School’s students and staff attended the game. “We just want to try and bring awareness of that to kids and make sure they don’t suffer in silence and reach out knowing help is available and within reach.”

The message wasn’t lost on the students in attendance, even through the excitement of a back-and-forth game that went all the way to a shootout. Especially when it came to hearing mental health strategies from the players on the ice.

“It makes me feel like a better person and it makes me feel better about myself because other cool people do the things that I do,” said Locklin, a young hockey fan learning about mental health through Project 11 in his classroom.

Another student, Molly, felt hearing from the players surrounded by so many of her peers showed how far the message is reaching.

“I think it’s so cool to see from one thing how it changes to another and can become so much bigger.”

The exciting game eventually saw the Milwaukee Admirals come away with a 4-3 victory in the shootout. Moose leading scorer Alex Limoges was one of the players featured when it came to discussing mental health. He posted a goal and an assist in the game and was blown away by energy the kids brought to the rink.

“It was unbelievable. They have energy for sure, I’m sure the teachers are appreciative that now they’re all going to go take a nap or something,” Limoges chuckled after the game. “It was an electric atmosphere. I had chills during the national anthems when everyone was singing, all those high-pitched voices. It was a lot of fun; I hope we do it again.”

The game also provided opportunities for the Moose to expose the game of hockey to a new audience. Many students in attendance had never attended a professional hockey game before. Some had never seen a hockey game period. The Louis Riel School Division’s International Student Program services 200 students from 17 different countries, many of whom attended the game.

“It’s so much fun. Most of them have never seen a hockey game before,” said Alex Coutu, a school coordinator in the program. “The lights, the music… They love it and they’re so excited. Watching them try to figure out the rules and what’s going on, it’s really a lot of fun. It captures their imagination.”

At the end of the day, everyone left the rink with a smile.

For the Manitoba Moose, it was the culmination of a significant effort involving staff throughout the organization. Whether it was those involved in the day-to-day planning, or the dozens of full-time True North Sports + Entertainment staff who stepped away from their usual duties to assist in the game day operation.

For teachers, they were able to give students a brand-new experience following a couple years of limited opportunities to take learning beyond the classroom. They were able expand the important conversations around mental health outside of school and into a more communal setting.

And for the students, it was an exciting day outside the classroom with hopefully some very important lessons to take home.

“I think just having the open communication and letting [students] know it’s okay to talk to people. It’s okay to feel how you feel. We’re all on the same page,” said Bates. “Teaching it in the classroom and having it reinforced here, it’s great.”

If you are a teacher interested in the Project 11 curriculum for your class or school, visit to register or learn more. The program is available to teachers outside of Manitoba. The Project 11 website also hosts numerous mental health resources.