ARLINGTON, Va. – Prior to becoming a Washington record holder in points and assists by a defenseman, Washington Capitals assistant coach Calle Johansson learned the basics of hockey playing the game in a parking lot with his father.
Responding to questions from a group of 160 third- through -eighth grade Blessed Sacrament School students, the anecdote was among stories Johansson shared during a recent Capitals Hockey School assembly.
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Featuring instruction from Capitals coaches and alumni, Hockey School is a free program designed to be both instructional and interactive with the goal of exposing students to floor hockey while teaching proper technique.
While Johansson told the Alexandria, Va., students he began playing hockey at six years old, he encouraged students of any age to pick up the game.
“I’ve seen guys starting at eight, nine and 10, and they became great hockey players – just because you didn’t start when you were five or six it doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” he advised.
“When I grew up,” Johansson said as he gestured to the street hockey equipment placed around the gymnasium, “We did this in the parking lot back home.”
During the assembly the Goteberg, Sweden, native drew on his experiences playing in 1,109 NHL games to instruct students on stickhandling, passing and shooting prior to joining them in a scrimmage.
As the children became goalies, defenseman and forwards – many of them for the first time – Johansson alternated between playing with and cheering on the students throughout a game that ended in a tie.
“We had a great hour and a half at Blessed Sacrament School,” Johansson said following the clinic. “Every time I pull up my car to one of these, I am amazed at how far hockey has come in this region.”
The Blessed Sacrament visit marked the seventh Capitals Hockey School assembly of the 2012-13 school year, with 2012-13 marking the sixth consecutive year the Capitals have conducted the program.
Following each clinic the Capitals donate a set of street hockey equipment to the school. Last year more than $13,000 worth of street hockey equipment was donated to 20 local schools through the team’s Hockey School program and playoff pep rally contest.
To date the Capitals have hosted more than 70 clinics and reached more than 10,000 students by hosting two Hockey School visits each month between September and May.
In addition to the equipment donation, all students receive an autographed alumni card, a hockey 101 booklet and a Capitals squishy puck, while the school receives a Capitals Hockey School banner.
Learning about hockey directly from Johansson was especially meaningful for the students, said school principal Valerie Garcia.
“It was a great day for the kids to see somebody professional who played at that high of a level telling them about the sport,” said Garcia. “He’s a great role model for them and it also is great to get all of the equipment.”