The Whatcom Warriors' bantam hockey team is about more than just the sport - it's a place for young athletes to grow as people.
For two Warriors' players, this sport is special in more ways than one.
"It builds character," Warriors defenseman John MacDonald said. "It's a sport that not many people play. But it's a sport I love."
MacDonald, 13, got into hockey because of his father, Larry MacDonald, and his two brothers, Rob and Mark. Larry is the coach of the Warriors, while Rob and Mark both play for the Bellingham Blazers.
"We played a lot of hockey," John said. "I just followed in their tracks. My dad is my role model. I've always been closest with my dad."
Being close to his father has allowed John to learn and grow on the ice and off of it. The biggest thing he's taken from his dad is to hold people accountable.
"Being the coach's son, I can hear what players are thinking and saying and report it back to him," MacDonald said.
Sometimes, John can take it too far when holding his teammates accountable though, his coach said.
"He's a very good player, and he's developing," Larry MacDonald said. "He fits in good with the team, but I think he needs to be a bit easier on his teammates from time to time and encourage them a bit more.
John is in his second year playing for the Warriors and is known as the "funny guy" on the team.
"He makes the whole team laugh," goalkeeper Karl Andersson, 15, said. "He's just a great team player. He always includes everyone."
John puts about seven hours a week into improving on the ice, but knows it's his grades in school that matter most.
"Being on the team, you have to have good grades," John said. "I have high expectations of my grades and so do my parents."
Helping John out is his teammate Brett Hanson, 16, who earned the captain's C this year.
"I look to Brett for support," John said.
Hanson is the team's starting center and earned high praise from his teammates for working hard.
"I always hear him breathing hard," attacking winger Bretton Chitwood, 13, said. "He is always pushing himself."
Similar to John, Hanson knows he has to work hard to get results and he learned it from his father, Barry Hanson.
"He taught me stuff about character," Hanson said. "He taught me it's all about mind over matter."
Hanson has been playing since he was 9 years old and gets better with each hour he puts in. But Hanson continues to look forward to practices, and calls it his favorite part of the day.
"I feel like I'm in my element on the ice," Hanson said. "In school sports, everyone is pretty equal, but it feels good to be better at a sport that not many people know how to play."
Hanson's only issue with hockey is the lack of checking in the league the Warriors play in. He loves the physical part of the game and has to hold back sometimes.
"It's about being under control and keeping cool," Hanson said.
Hanson and MacDonald are just two of the many players who have benefited from the Whatcom Warriors program, which has given a chance for young athletes to grow as athletes and as human beings.
Reach Joshua Hart at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.