Youth Hockey Clinic inspires young athletes

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Anxious parents saddled their children with oversized shoulder pads and helmets as a Zamboni readied the ice rink in anticipation for a youth hockey clinic at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center Ice Arena. Taking part in the Anaheim Duck sponsored Learn to Play program, 60 children took the ice, many for the first time, aided by a host of helpful coaches and orange safety buckets used as a crutch to keep the more novice skaters upright.

Anxious parents saddled their children with oversized shoulder pads and helmets as a Zamboni readied the ice rink in anticipation for a youth hockey clinic at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center Ice Arena. Taking part in the Anaheim Duck sponsored Learn to Play program, 60 children took the ice, many for the first time, aided by a host of helpful coaches and orange safety buckets used as a crutch to keep the more novice skaters upright.

The Learn to Play program, whose third week resumes Saturday, is a four week crash course in hockey fundamentals for children ages 4-12. Over the four weeks the participants will learn a variety of skills including how to skate, handling a hockey stick, and shooting a puck.

Many would-be youth hockey players are deterred by the high price of entry that comes from purchasing costly hockey equipment. The program was created to offer first-time players the chance to get on the rink in full hockey equipment for free. Anaheim Duck stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzalf have pledged to give every kid who completes the program a brand new set of hockey equipment.

“It’s our way of reaching out in the community, hockey is a great sport and we want to make sure everyone gets exposure to it,” said Jessie Chatfield, Anaheim Ducks marketing manager. “The program has been a big success 50 percent of kids who participate go on to sign up for an actual hockey league.”

The rink was quite a spectacle as 60 children all took the ice at the same time eager to become acquainted with their skates and equipment. It resembled an adolescent boot camp as children sprawled out all over the ice labored to get to their feet, with the help of their trusty bucket, to receive more instruction from coaches. Often time’s exhausted or frustrated children would take a breather on the bench before returning to the rink.

Volunteer coach Bart Roberson, said he was pleased that on this day no man was left behind.

“It was great, every kid who took a break eventually went back on the ice, no one quit,” he said. “If they keep coming back they will be good hockey players, we are great coaches here. I might be a little biased.”

If the chorus of camera phones recording the proceedings and the hand-smudged class surrounding the rink were any indication, the parents enjoyed it as much as their children.

Jim Fee, father of Jacob Fee who was taking part in the clinic, said his son has been waiting for an opportunity like this.

“We are a big hockey family, this is his first time ever though. It’s hysterical he can’t stay up today,” he said.

Mark Campbell another ebullient parent looking on said he was happy he heard about the program.

“He’s doing really good today, every time I look out there he is laughing,” he said. “Today is a great day.”

The program is open to everybody and has no restrictions. The maximum number of kids per clinic is 60, but Chatfield said parents should sign up anyway.

“The classes are full right now, but there is a wait list,” he said. “Sometimes kids drop out, even if the people on the waitlist don’t get in this time, they are put on a priority list and when we run the clinic again they get the first opportunity to sign up before we open it up to the general public again.”

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