Outdoors And Outside The Box

Alaska Clinic Gives Prospective Goalies A Different Look At The Position

The goal of Try Hockey For Free is to expose youngsters to the speed, fun and friendships associated with playing the fastest game on ice. And, with any luck, set them on a path to a lifetime love affair with the sport. 

Sometimes that means thinking outside of the box. Or in Steve Thompson's case, outside the rink. With the help of fellow native Alaskan, Wylie Rogers, Thompson had a group of youngsters step outside their comfort zone during a special clinic in the most unlikely of places.

Located just north of Alaska's capital of Juneau, the 13-mile long Mendenhall Glacier is often the site of family-friendly activities, from cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing to hiking and fishing. For one perfect February day, it was the site of a clinic, hosted by Thompson, the Pacific District associate coach-in-chief for goaltending, and Rogers, an alumnus for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program who played college hockey at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Their mission was to expose a handful of aspiring goalies to the position as well as to the elements in Alaska's great outdoors.

"It's the coolest Alaskan experience Wylie and I have had," said Thompson, who recently served as a goaltending coach for the U.S. Women's National Team. "You can skate on the glacier and then go into the ice caves. It's a really neat experience."

It's what made the area so attractive initially, in an effort to try and secure kids with an active mindset.

"That's the kind of demographic we want to hit," Rogers said. "Our hope is to capture and grow the game in maybe a skiing family or a family that loves being outdoors. If they see a creative way to play the game, maybe they fall in love with it and end up being hooked."

Putting on an outdoor clinic did present a few challenges, such as clearing a foot of snow off the makeshift rink and hauling in equipment and nets from a nearby rink. But with clear blue skies providing a canopy above the glacier, it was the perfect opportunity to open the door to a new position for a handful of kids. 

"That's what we wanted to do, just inspire kids to fall in love with goaltending and see it as the coolest position in the game," Thompson said. 

"What better way of making [the position] seem so awesome and fun than doing it on a grand glacier, with drones flying in the air, cool pictures, gear and fun games. All of the things that make goaltending so cool."

Given the pristine environment, the clinic appeared to hit its mark.

"All the kids had a blast," Thompson said. "They've got to see the video that we made of them making slo-mo glove saves. Most importantly, we've seen a handful of them that have continued to play in net."

And along the way, hosting a Try Hockey For Free event in such a unique setting will likely raise the bar for future events. 

"You make a few calls, the right parents hear about it and all of a sudden it turns into something pretty unique," Rogers said. 




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