ST. LOUIS - Hundreds of children throughout the St. Louis area are getting a chance to play hockey for the first time thanks to a new program offered by the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues First Stride program, which launched in association with Total Hockey and Bauer, offers first-time hockey players the opportunity to get on the ice in full equipment for free. Children ages 5-8 have participated in on-ice sessions before Blues gameday practices at Scottrade Center.
“We really started to work with all the local associations, recognizing that we need to keep finding ways to get young kids into hockey,” said Chris Zimmerman, the Blues’ President and CEO of Business Operations. “This learn to play / try hockey program we’re doing with Total Hockey is a fantastic way to keep getting more and more kids to experience the game.”
In November, the club opened registration through the team’s website at stlouisblues.com. According to Chairman Tom Stillman, the Blues intended to sign up about 150 children for the program and instead, ended up with more than 400 sign-ups and a long waiting list to participate.
Former Blues Brett Hull and Kelly Chase were on the ice teaching participants the game on Monday morning before the team’s morning skate. Afterwards, kids were able to get autographs from T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, Hall of Famer Bernie Federko and FOX Sports analyst Darren Pang.
“Introducing these young kids into the game is a great idea for one,” Hull said. “When you go out there with them and see the smiles and the enthusiasm they have, they’re on the rink where the St. Louis Blues play…it’s really great.”
Kelly Wuennenberg signed up her eight-year-old daughter for the program early.
“She was inspired, so here she is trying it out,” Wuennenberg said.
“The Blues reached out to the amateur hockey community a couple months ago and said 'we’d like to get involved in helping grow the game,'” said John Luetkemeyer of Total Hockey. “The effort of the St. Louis Blues and Total Hockey and Bauer…many entities (have come) together to expose a bunch of kids to this great sport.”
Although the sessions are full, parents are encouraged to check stlouisblues.com frequently for more information on future sessions.