All That And A Bucket of Fun

Schwan's Super Rink Opens A Pandora's Box Of Fun To Get Youngsters In The Game

They hit the ice like little bundles of unbridled excitement and boundless energy. Decked out from head to toe in protective gear, with skate blades chopping at the ice and tiny sticks swinging through the frosty air, these pint-sized hockey players can't curb their enthusiasm. 

After a few trips around the ice at the Schwan's Super Rink, what appears to be a typical hockey practice is ready to start. A blue plastic bin makes its way onto the ice and out pops a smorgasbord of hula hoops, pool noodles, tennis balls and other implements of fun. Before long, these happy little hockey players are skating over, around and through them. Little do they know they're practicing vital hockey skills like balance, agility and edge work. They're too busy having fun.

Standing away from the chaos, Pete Carlson breaks into a smile. After spending the past 15 years helping youngsters discover their passion for the game, the director of the eight-sheet facility in Blaine, Minn., still can't help but get caught up in the excitement.

It was almost by accident that Carlson and his fellow coaches found that the best way to get players to develop their skills is by replacing the traditional stick and puck practices with other fun items more likely to be found at a backyard barbecue.

While it's admittedly a bit unorthodox, especially in the State of Hockey, Carlson said parents love seeing their young sons and daughters having so much fun in such a productive program. 

"So often, parents in our Mite programs had younger children that were 2, 3 or 4 years old. They would ask us if we had a program for them," Carlson says. "They were eager to get their kids on the ice."

This led to the creation of their Intro Mites program featuring what Carlson refers to as the Bucket of Fun. It started with teaching the basics of skating through what many would consider normal hockey drills. But coaches soon learned that traditional methods weren't going to work on this young age group.

"We knew we couldn't do normal practices with these kids," Carlson says. "We got together different things like balls, rings and tires. It was a way for the kids to get better without realizing they were working on things like balance."

The program lasts eight weeks and has continued to thrive with strong participation. It's also led to kids being excited enough to continue on to the next level and stay with the sport. 

Todd Peterson's son, Henrik, was a part of this season's Fall program and dad can't believe the results he's seen after only a few weeks on the ice.

"Just to see all the different drills is so great," he says. "We had to get him on the ice and the coaches have done a great job engaging with these guys."

It's equally popular with coaches, including Cory Thorson who takes a break from his duties as an assistant coach with the Saint John's University Div. III men's team to help out.

"I love being able to be around all ages, including this one," Thorson admits. "It's amazing to see how far along their basic skills come in just eight weeks. You go from everyone falling a lot to just a few falls here and there by the end of it."

Carlson says other rinks are starting to copy his program. The more the merrier is how he sees it. For him, it's all about inclusion.

"We're putting kids at a place where they can succeed at that next level," he says. "We want everyone to see how great this game is and how much fun it is for them to work on their individual game." 



Ryan Williamson is a freelance writer based in Eden Prairie, Minn.




Who is your favorite American player?
Auston Matthews
Jason Robertson
Tage Thompson
Matthew Tkachuk
Patrick Kane
Total votes: 395