From the time the sun peaked above the sandy dunes of Cape Cod until it set over the shores of Hawaii, more than 6,000 kids laced up a pair of skates, grabbed a stick and gave hockey a try.
Some showed up with family and friends. Others arrived at the rink kicking and screaming and left with smiles on their faces. From Massachusetts to Nashville to Omaha, Neb., to Southern California, the day was a success. In all, 182 rinks in 48 states across the nation hosted Try Hockey for Free events,
introducing 6,064 young kids to the game as part of Hockey Weekend Across America.
Here are four examples of how the day went.
Girls Day Out
(Nashville Youth Hockey League)
By Harry Thompson
Walking into the Centennial Sportsplex on Feb. 19, young girls were confronted with a fork in the road. The first rink they passed was hosting a figure skating competition, where young ladies were decked out in frilly dresses with their hair pulled back and makeup on their faces.
In the back rink, the Nashville Youth Hockey League was hosting a Try Hockey For Free event for girls.
More than 40 girls chose the road less traveled and suited up for several hours of hockey fun.
“Our motto is that if a girl wants to play hockey with us, we’ll figure it out,” said Barbara Fay, who organized the event in conjunction with the Nashville Predators and rink personnel to create a fun-filled session.
In a town where hockey is taking off, opportunities for girls are still lacking. Fay and her husband Steve along with a number of great volunteers are looking to change that by creating more opportunities like this one.
“Some girls don’t like soccer, and they don’t like lacrosse,” said Fay, who has been involved with the NYHL for six years. “Hockey gives these girls a sense of empowerment and a sport they can call their own.”
Bringing New Families To The Rink
(Lexington-Bedford (Mass.) Youth Hockey)
By Kevin Kavanagh
Joe Palomba and his fellow board members with Lexington-Bedford Youth Hockey were concerned about the future of their association. Registrations at the 8 & Under level were declining as the Boston area suburbs were being swallowed up by “AAA” and “elite” programs, making it more of a challenge to keep the players in their program.
“We finally came to the realization that we needed to invite new families to the rink and introduce them to the sport,” Palomba said. “We have a growing and diverse community and not all of our residents grew up with hockey.”
By hosting a Try Hockey for Free event at the Hayden Rec Center, the association provided a new demographic with the ultimate hockey test drive at the right price. The end result may not be known until next season’s registrations begin to pour in, but judging from the smiles on the faces of the 22 kids who came out, it’s more than likely that a new group of players will be joining the ranks next season.
The Leader Of The Pack
(Omaha Youth Hockey Association)
By Kevin Erlenbach
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Omaha (Neb.) Youth Hockey Association should be blushing. That’s because there are a number of youth hockey leagues around the country that plan on taking a page from Omaha’s playbook when it comes to hosting a Try Hockey For Free clinic next year.
Omaha had 249 kids show up on Feb. 19 to give the sport a try, and by doing so not only increased their youth hockey ranks for next season but won a prize pack from Reebok Hockey that included 40 helmets and 40 pairs of gloves.
“We took advantage of the many marketing ideas that USA Hockey provided us, especially the Valentine’s Day cards,” said Stacy Bradley, IP Beginner Hockey commissioner. “A local printer was able to provide us with 7,500 Try Hockey for Free themed cards that our 8 & Under players handed out at school. So many people showed up to the rink with their card still in hand.”
To make sure every participant had the best experience, they utilized 50 on-site volunteers to maximize the two hours of ice time.
“This was a complete team effort by everyone within our association, from the equipment donations to the word-of-mouth marketing,” Bradley said.
Joining Omaha among the leading associations, and earning 20 sets of Reebok Hockey equipment, were Siouxland (Iowa) Youth Hockey, Sugar Land (Texas) Ice & Sports Center, York (Penn.) Ice Hockey Club and Western Connecticut Youth Hockey (Danbury, Conn.).
California Kid Gets Two For The Price Of One
(Valley Ice Center & Burbank Roller Hockey)
By Courtney Welch
Luca Mestrandrea first caught the hockey bug when he saw a hockey highlight on ESPN. Now there is no stopping him.
Mestrandrea was one of 300 kids to try hockey for free in California as part of Hockey Weekend Across America.
The 4-year-old Burbank, Calif., native took to the ice at Valley Ice Center in the morning and celebrated the afternoon with an introduction to inline hockey at Burbank Roller Hockey Rink.
His parents supported his passion for hockey even though they don’t have a history with the sport, picking up some hockey guy figurines, taking him to a couple of LA Kings games and buying some hockey sticks.
“Then we got a flyer for a Try Hockey for Free clinic from Valley Ice Center after doing some Learn to Skate classes,” said Liz Mestrandrea, Luca’s mom. “We stumbled upon Burbank Roller Hockey when we were at the park and saw they had information up at the park promoting the event.
“As a parent I was very scared to let my child go out there. I felt more comfortable after seeing them put on the equipment and the way the coaches took the time to properly teach the kids.”
After the events, Luca has started the beginning youth hockey program every Sunday at Valley Ice Center and is looking to start playing inline hockey as his parents bought him rollerblades after the clinic.