BostonBruins.com — It was a very full Saturday afternoon as members of the Boston Bruins coaching staff visited three rinks for USA Hockey’s "Try Hockey For Free Day."
On November 3, over 400 hockey programs across the country encouraged children ages 4-9 to try the game as a part of the NHL’s Come Play Hockey Month.
"It’s a chance for the kids to get on the ice and just get a little feel for what it’s like to be on skates and what the game of hockey is about," said Assistant Coach Doug Jarvis.
Jarvis hit the rink along with fellow assistant coaches Doug Houda and Geoff Ward, who all skated alongside Bruins alum, and B's youth program mainstay, Tommy Songin. The Bruins staff contributed to the cause by leading young players at the Bog Ice Arena in Kingston, the Quincy Youth Arena, and Connell Memorial Rink in Weymouth.
"This is an important time for them," said Coach Ward. "You want their first few times on the ice to be fun so they continue to come back.
"The groups that we’re with look like they’re having an awful lot of fun."
A wide range of skills were exhibited, from first-time skaters pushing crates for balance to budding young stars zooming past the coaches, but the most important piece of hockey advice remains the same for all youngsters who are just starting their ice time.
"As long as you’re learning and you’re having fun then it’s a game that’s easy to grab onto," said Ward. "I know -- with my four kids at home -- I say that to them every day when we’re talking about sports."
On-ice safety was also a consistent theme at all three rinks.
"Probably the most important thing, besides having fun, is keeping your head up all the time." said Jarvis. "Along the boards, anywhere on the ice, you’ve got to always have your head up for safety reasons and certainly to see where you’re going out there."
Beyond bringing hockey basics to first-timers, a day of youth hockey brought back a lot of memories for the Black & Gold coaches, who had a chance to reminisce on their own first few years in skates.
"The main difference with us was when I first started it was on an outdoor rink," Ward said.
Coach Jarvis agreed.
"I don’t remember actually moving inside a rink until I was eight years old," he said. "But wherever the ice is, it’s great to get on it and it’s great to learn and get some exposure to the game of hockey."
That exposure led to some Black & Gold dreams and, at one stop, when Songin asked the young skaters who in the group would play for the Bruins, 30 hands shot quickly into the air
Sure, this first chance at hockey might just lead to an NHL future for a lot of those players, but pro contract or no, as long as they play for the love of the game, that's all that matters.
Summing up the day, Ward said, "The smiles on their faces say it all."