The Hub Of The Hockey Community

Bruins Remain Committed To Growing The Game Throughout New England


The Boston Bruins' duckboat parade on June 18, 2011 was, to date, the largest gathering in city history, bringing out not only fans that had recently fallen in love with their team but those from prior generations.

Tattered No. 24 "O'Reilly" jerseys mixed in among the many No. 37 and 63 sweaters scattered along crowded sidewalks to greet their heroes and get their first glimpse of the Stanley Cup since 1972. A full decade into the Patriots' dynasty and on the heels of two World Series championships for the Red Sox and the Celtics' 17th NBA title, the Bruins were finally vindicated.

What they didn't do is rest on their laurels.

Not a year passed before the Bruins unveiled new initiatives aimed at growing the game of hockey, supporting needy children and strengthening their presence in the community.

"Learn To Play, that really is the benchmark. It's the largest Learn To Play program among the NHL teams that do it, and that's where it all starts," said Kevin Kavanagh, executive director of Massachusetts Hockey. 

"What I see is the commitment to the overall reputation and the marketplace. That starts at the top."

From the Jacobs family through club president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney and on through key staffers like Director of Youth Hockey & Fan Development Mike Dargin, the Bruins are fortifying an unprecedented synergy with community hockey groups and beyond.

Now in its sixth season, Bruins Academy Learn to Play has seen 15,000 skaters, 25 percent of which are girls. This season's participation will reach 5,000, each of whom will spend $140 for a full outfit of CCM equipment ($500 retail value including skates) and four weeks of on-ice instruction.

Offered in partnership with Pure Hockey on 85 rinks across New England, Learn to Play is the big bang of the Bruins' grassroots efforts.

In Massachusetts alone the results are undeniable, as 8 & Under youth hockey participation grew last season by 3 percent to 12,889 players. Girls in that age group are up 7.7 percent to a total of 3,173 skaters.

More recently the Bruins established a girls-only Learn to Play program that has seen 300 participate at six rinks. An annual Girls Hockey Day is underway at TD Garden, where a full day of programming includes Learn to Skate, a cross-ice tournament for 10Us and separate Learn to Play clinics for 12Us, 14Us, high schoolers, and women.

"Our mission is to continue to invade our community on a grass-roots level," said Glen Thornborough, now six years into his career with the Bruins, including the last three as chief revenue officer. "We're very, very fortunate to have this fanbase, and our responsibility is to continue to nurture that."

The partnership of USA Hockey, Mass. Hockey and the Bruins reached a new level following the creation of a unique event that is the highlight for any youth hockey coach attending.

The Bruins' annual Coaching Symposium seats up to 500 community coaches for an up-close look at an NHL game-day skate.

Bruins' Head Coach Bruce Cassidy is mic'd up to address the attendees as he runs his players through their paces, discussing powerplay drills and related topics.

"The messaging that comes out of the office is we couldn't script it better than what they say naturally," said Roger Grillo, the ADM manager for the Massachusetts and New England Districts of USA Hockey. 

"I think when it comes from the highest level with the best players and the best coaches in the world, it's had a huge impact."

Upon conclusion of Cassidy's presentation, attendees break up into small group sessions to tackle age-group subjects, exchange knowledge and experience, and sharpen skills. Then they pay it forward in their local rinks.

"I scouted for almost 10 years, now I'm an ambassador for the Boston Bruins. The one thing I always say is, 'We're aware, and we care,'" said former Bruin Tom Songin, who conducts seven Bruins Academy Summer Camps annually.

While the Bruins Foundation and Alumni are regularly involved in local rinks, the team's community outreach is not limited to the ice.

Former Bruins fitness trainer John Whitesides, whose tough talk to draft picks was featured in the award-winning TV show "Behind the B," now holds school assemblies to inspire children toward healthy activities and nutrition via the team's "Bfit" program. BFit visited 50 schools last year and donated Franklin street-hockey equipment to
200 schools.

"We launched BFit around his mission. We created this school assembly, and it's taken off," Thornborough said. "Even if you don't want to pick up ice skates and a stick, we want to be part of that education. ... We want to be part of that journey for them."

Hockey players are famous for visiting hospitals, and the Bruins send their development camp prospects to acclimate them to the team culture. Now they are building atop such traditions with recently created programs like "When You Read, You Score!" involving 17 visits to community libraries. Bruins Academy Kids Club is another.

The team and its partners are not finished according to Kavanagh, who anticipates a new parent-education series.

"People are going to listen to the Bruins," he said. 



Mick Colageo is a freelance writer based in the Boston area.




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