ARLINGTON, Va. – For a group of 180 Harriet Tubman Elementary School students, an introduction to hockey recently came in the form of a special visit by members of the Washington Capitals coaching staff.
“When I started playing hockey, I was a little guy with hand me down skates, sticks and gloves,” assistant coach Tim Hunter told an audience of third- through fifth-graders. “The moment I put skates on I wanted to be a hockey player, and my dream came true.”
Along with video coach Brett Leonhardt, Hunter was at the Washington, D.C., school on Dec., 19 for a Hockey School assembly, designed to expose youth to hockey. They were joined by alumnus Alan Hangsleben, who played with the team from 1979-82.
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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.
Held twice a month between September and May, the program allows children to interact with coaches and alumni through a question and answer session, skills demonstrations and a scrimmage.
While the 2012-13 year marks the sixth consecutive year the Capitals have conducted the program, the team has hosted more than 70 clinics and reached more than 10,000 students in the past four years.
At Harriet Tubman, students questioned the trio on topics including their introduction to hockey, injuries and how it feels to play the sport.
“It feels like you’re behind the steering wheel of a race car,” Hunter replied. “You’re going full speed at 30, 40 seconds, and then you sit down. You take another shift and go full speed for another 30 seconds. The problem is there are 100 other race cars out there trying to get the puck from you, so it’s pretty exhilarating.”
Following a tutorial on stickhandling, passing and shooting, Hunter, Leonhardt and Hangsleben joined students in a scrimmage.
With former collegiate goaltender Leonhardt instructing goaltenders on how to block shots, Hangsleben’s girls team defeated Hunter’s boys team 2-1.
Following the scrimmage, the Capitals donated a set of street hockey equipment to the school and provided each student with an autographed hockey 101 booklet and a squishy puck.
“All I’ve done in my life is be a player or coach,” Hunter said. “I’m very fortunate to be part of this game, and hopefully we were able to cultivate some new players by being here today.”
Harriet Tubman Elementary School also received a Capitals Hockey School banner to display in their school gymnasium, along with encouragement from the Capitals to continue playing the sport.
“All you need is a stick, a pair of shoes, and off you go,” Hunter said. “It’s pretty great.”