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back in the game

Troy Kowal is one of dozens of young hockey players whose skates, pads, helmet and sticks were destroyed by floodwaters that devastated High River, Alta., in June.

The mass destruction of hockey equipment in basements and garages was one of a myriad of challenges his hometown has faced this summer as it rebuilds.

But for minor hockey players and their parents, it was another part of their lives thrown into disarray.

"Pretty sad," said Kowal, a 14-year-old forward. "I love the sport. It was heartbreaking."

The Foothills Minor Hockey Association got a helping hand from the National Hockey Association Players' Association and RBC with the donation $50,000 for equipment Tuesday.

Kowal estimates the cost of replacing his equipment would have been $2,000, so the assistance was welcome.

"It's definitely better," he said. "It helps me cope with it. I'm excited for a new season.

"I'm still loving it. I'll play until I can't play anymore."

Calgary Flames forwards Matt Stajan and T.J. Galiardi and defencemen Derek Smith and Mark Giordano helped present a cheque Tuesday.

They then joined minor hockey players for a game of ball hockey in a junior high gymnasium.

Galiardi is from Calgary, which is north of High River.

Parts of that city were also submerged when the Bow and Elbow rivers spilled their banks.

The NHLPA's Goals and Dreams program has contributed millions of dollars to grassroots programs, but the High River initiative felt personal to Galiardi.

"Everyone has been affected here so heavily with the floods, " he said. "If we can help out even a small bit we're happy to do so."

Restoration of the Bob Snodgrass Recreational Centre in High River is ongoing.

The Foothills Association hopes to have the arena ready to launch the 2013-14 season.

The prospect of a season seemed dimmer when so many of the 304 players in the Foothills hockey system were without equipment.

"Most of our kids were affected," Association president Derek Harper said. "Ninety-four per cent of all of all of our household dwellings were decimated. As far as hockey equipment, I wasn't sure we were going to have hockey this year.

"Right now our numbers are looking very good. Most of our returning players are back."

The chance to play hockey again injects some normalcy into youngsters' lives which haven't felt normal this summer.

"The bigger issue for us here is these kids need something to do," said Troy Kowal's father Tom. "We need these kids to have a feel-good story. Life has been so hard for these kids.

"Our town is rebuilding. We'll be fine and we'll rebuild, but we need things to feel good about."