WASHINGTON, DC, November 3, 2013 — Maureen Owen’s son loves hockey.
He pretend plays in the kitchen at home with Tupperware and miniature hockey sticks. He has watched his older friend compete and his school friend skate. He has fallen in love with the game, but he has never been on ice.
So when a friend’s father sent an email about trying hockey for free, he begged his mom to go.
“I think it’s great,” Owen said. “Even though he can’t skate, maybe he will decide he likes it and want to come learn how to skate and eventually play.”
That was the goal for NOVA Ice Dogs coach JC Conmy and USA Hockey. On Saturday, 500 ice rinks across the country opened their doors to some of their smallest fans for the second of two “Try Hockey for Free Days.” Sponsored by USA Hockey and the National Hockey League, Saturday’s free day coincided with the start of the third annual “Come Play Hockey Month.”
At Mount Vernon Recreation Center’s Ice Rink where Conmy coaches, one of 18 area rinks participating, parents watched in the stands as 30 small bodies draped in USA jerseys took to the ice. Some of the four to nine-year-olds walked, side-stepped or skated to the middle of the rink. Some immediately slipped and fell, but as coaches and older Ice Dogs players helped them up, there were no tears, only smiles.
“He’s having fun, he’s not standing up, but he’s having fun,” Owens said.
Kerry Murphy’s son also loves hockey. He has watched his four cousins play in Boston. He has seen his older brother compete for the NOVA Ice Dogs. The three and a half-year-old wants to be a hockey player and even wears his own hockey gloves to school every day.
Saturday was his first time playing hockey, too.
“It’s great because it’s one of those things where you don’t get an opportunity to do,” Murphy said. “They can do the ice skating classes here but they can’t really do the hockey thing unless you sign up for a 10 week program.”
While new skaters practiced gliding with the help of upturned buckets, others practiced shooting against the backboard, passing and skating with a puck.
“Like we told them in the locker room, we’re not turning them into NHL superstars today, but what we want to do is kind of give them an introduction and hopefully inspire in them a love for the game,” Conmy said. “Hopefully they leave with a smile on their face, and they get a team USA jersey out of it too.”
Participants also left with Capitals key chains, stickers and magnets, introducing them to their hometown team who bested the Panthers in a shoot-out that night. The most important thing for Conmy, however, was that they left with excitement for the game.
“I love it. I’m excited,” he said. “It’s all about growing the game… It’s not about creating superstars and all that, it’s about inspiring kids to come out, play hard, enjoy what they’re doing, have some teamwork and have a good time.”
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