Budding Jarrow ice hockey player cut off from his team during pandemic finally gets some practice in on the frozen River Don
A budding ice hockey star left unable to train during the pandemic was granted a gift from Mother Nature when the bitter winter weather turned the river near his home into a makeshift ice rink.
Eight-year-old Oliver Payette is an enthusiastic member of the Whitley Bay Mischiefs ice hockey team.
But the covid pandemic has meant weekly training sessions have been cancelled for the majority of the past year.
However, the past week’s record-setting cold snap – which saw temperatures in the North East drop as low as -10C overnight – handed the budding hockey star an unexpected opportunity to get on his skates for the first time in months.
When out walking with his mum, Jemma Abel, in the lead-up to the half term break, the pair spotted that nearby waterways in the borough had frozen over completely after days of sub-zero temperatures.
Oliver made the most of the unusual weather conditions by completing several outings on the iced-over stretch of the River Don behind St Paul’s Monastery.
"It was absolutely amazing,” the Jarrow youngster said of the experience.
“We went and checked the water at six o’clock in the morning and it was frozen solid.
"I had to clear loads of snow with my hockey stick to get going. But then I was able to practice loads of things – dribbling with the puck, turning, shooting.”
According to his mum, Oliver “has had a stick in his hand since he was one or so, practically since he could walk.”
She said: “Obviously at the moment, with him not being able to go to school, he’s struggled quite a lot being in the house.
"So when the ice came and he asked me if we could go back to the house and get his skates out, I couldn’t say no. He even had a couple of passersby stopping to admire his skills.
"When we were walking away, he said to me, ‘Mam, that’s the best memory I’m ever going to have. It was such a good day.’”
Oliver and his teammates briefly returned to training at the Whitley Bay Ice Rink between October and December 2020.
But, with the number of Covid cases across the region rising steadily during those months, the sessions were quickly brought to a halt for a second time at the back end of last year.
"The only way he can practice at the moment is by shooting and saving in the house or the garden at the moment - usually with me,” Ms Abel added.
"But it just isn’t the same.”
Jemma said Oliver was also given a boost at an earlier stage in the pandemic, when restrictions were lighter, as professional ice hockey player Stephanie Towns, from Whitley Bay, paid the household some visits.
Stephanie is one of Oliver’s coaches at Whitley Bay, and his mum said she has guided and helped him practice in socially-distanced way at the back garden of his Jarrow home during some of the difficult hockey-free months of the past year.
“We’re extremely grateful to have Steph doing what she does - lending a hand in her spare time and keeping Oliver on his toes,” Ms Abel said.