"It starts with these kids, right here," Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said Wednesday during a street hockey clinic with students at Chicanos Por La Causa Community Center.
Gutierrez has been stressing the need for the team to better connect with the Latino community as part of civic pride, development and Coyotes outreach.
The event was a part of the team's Hispanic Heritage Month initiatives.
Forward Vinnie Hinostroza assisted the Coyotes' hockey development team in the clinic. Hinostroza is one of the few NHL players with Hispanic roots. His paternal grandparents are Ecuadorian.
Chicanos Por La Causa is one of the nation's largest Hispanic community development organizations and is led by David Adame, co-chair of the Arizona Coyotes Latino Advisory Council.
The clinic was designed to expose the game of hockey to Latino communities and share the excitement, speed and skill.
"As the first Latino President and CEO in the NHL, and also for Alex Meruelo Sr., the first Latino owner in the NHL, it really gives us a lot of pride in sharing our culture, heritage and background with others," Gutierrez said. "This great sport of hockey is something that may not be part of the athletic story or narrative of the Latino community, but it's on us to extend our hand, to reach out, and to say 'You can be part of our pack, you are part of our fan base.' So, it really, really means a lot to us to do these things."
Hinostroza knows the importance of providing kids the opportunity to discover a passion for sport.
"I remember being at school and community centers as a kid," he said. "Playing basketball, football, lacrosse, just learning new games that I would never have played otherwise at home with my family."
Genaro R. Ruiz, manager of Chicanos Por La Causa Community Center stressed that community partnerships with professional organizations go a long way in helping kids obtain the services they need to succeed. The youths at the community center Wednesday had been involved with virtual schooling. As part of the clinic, each student went home with a street hockey stick and ball.
"After doing their studies all day, the kids were able to take part in a recreational activity with a sports team," said Ruiz. "That is really cool for them. So, today worked out great.
"It all starts with building the relationship," Ruiz added. "It's about knowing that (the Coyotes) support us as a community, and that we can see ourselves being a part of it. Knowing that they support us, it's easier for us to go and support them."
The impact Wednesday can be lasting, Hinostroza said.
"All these kids are going to go home, be exhausted, eat dinner, and they're going to lay in bed later and be like 'That was so fun playing hockey,'" Hinostroza said, with a grin. "Maybe they'll say 'I can grab a hockey stick and do this in my driveway.' All you need is a hockey stick and a ball, and you can mess around with it for hours. That's what I did as a kid. So, it's definitely going to spark some interest. I can already see the smiles on their faces. It really makes me happy."
"It really starts with organizations like us," Gutierrez said, referencing NHL star Auston Matthews, who discovered his love of the game growing up in the Valley. He wants the Coyotes to have that effect on more local kids.
"But it's up to us to come to these neighborhoods," Gutierrez added. "It's not just to bring them to our arena. It's for us to say 'You too can play this sport.' It's about family, it's about passion, it's about skill.
"Really, it's to say the Coyotes are thinking about you. It's a sport, it's an organization, it's a club that is coming to your neighborhood and taking the time to show you something new. We're hoping that they go home, they tell their parents, they tell their aunts, their uncles, their tias, tios and abuelos and say 'That was fun! Can we go see a game?' We know that once you go see a hockey game, it changes your perspective.
"It's on us to change the face of hockey."
Photo Credit [All]: Norm Hall - Arizona Coyotes