GLENDALE -- To say the Arizona Coyotes are heavily invested in growing hockey in their home state, both on and off the ice, is a huge understatement.
On the ice, the Coyotes have held more than 100 free Little Howlers Learn to Play Hockey sessions since January 2013. Each session consists of four one-hour hockey lessons with full gear and skates, held monthly, or bi-monthly, at each ice rink in Arizona.
But off the ice is where the Coyotes have made the biggest impact with regard to growing the sport of hockey in the desert.
During the week, the Coyotes travel to different schools around Maricopa County, taking over the PE class, and hosting free street hockey clinics. However, these clinics are not like other sports team visits, which is usually an assembly atmosphere, talking to the students about the team and "demonstrating" skills.
Instead, students are taught the skills necessary to play the game, such as stickhandling, shooting, passing, and even goaltending. Proper hockey stance and the basic rules are also discussed in the pre-clinic rundown in order to ensure safety. Once the kids have completed their practice, the coaches split them into teams and let them put their new skills to the test in a game.
Students usually leave home with some sort of Coyotes swag, ranging from stickers, trading cards, backpacks, etc. But for the Coyotes, the best giveaway is leaving with a new athletic skill and the hunger to play more hockey, which the coaches explain can be done on more surfaces than just ice (making it just as accessible as football, basketball, or baseball).
Since January of 2013, the Coyotes have held 197 street hockey clinics at various schools around Arizona, including in Flagstaff and Tucson, seeing an average of 350 kids at each visit. Of the schools the Coyotes have visited, at least half are in lower-income areas with kids who have never played or watched hockey before.
The 197 visits do not include the clinics the team ran at after-school programs with Boys and Girls clubs, church groups, Scouts (both boy and girl), and other smaller groups, which would add an additional 46 clinics, averaging about 75 kids at each of those.
This all equates to more than 72,000 kids who have been exposed to hockey in less than three years, proving the Coyotes are doing a lot behind the scenes to help bring hockey awareness around the state.
Through various donations of street hockey gear from the Coyotes, groups from around the state have joined in the effort to grow hockey and offer kids an opportunity to play street hockey after their in-school experience.
Groups, such as Desert Hockey Development, host free weekend clinics for kids who want to continue fine tuning their skills, while the City of Phoenix Parks and Rec department have offered inexpensive leagues at a couple of their community centers.
Every year since the shortened 2013 season, the Coyotes have increased the number of street hockey clinics the put on, and due to the popularity and word of mouth from the PE teachers, the future looks bright to continuing that trend.
For more information on how to have the Coyotes visit your school, email Matt.Shott@ArizonaCoyotes.com