Several participants in The Rinks Top Flight Street Hockey League traded in their sneakers for ice skates last weekend as the program hosted its first on-ice event at The Rinks - Lakewood ICE.
Getting its start in 2013, the Top Flight program presented by Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) is a street hockey league designed specifically for special needs players. The program has reached more than 100 participants over 12 seasons and is currently fielding 40 athletes across four teams that practice and play on Friday nights at The Rinks - Huntington Beach Inline.
"The Top Flight program continues to grow not only in development with the players but within the special needs community as well, and we see a number of new participants coming out each season," said Marketing Manager of The Rinks, Jesse Chatfield. "We felt the next step would be gauging interest for an ice hockey program."
Some participants at the free event chose to focus on skating skills for the afternoon, while others donned full hockey gear and were able to experience shooting, passing and puck-handling drills.
"We had about a dozen participants out here today from the special needs community, and we were able to go through some of the basics of ice skating as well as some of the fundamentals of hockey," Chatfield said. "It was great to see how easy it was for a number of the participants to transition from shoes to skates."
A street hockey player in the Top Flight program for three years, 17-year old Peter Yencso had a positive experience during his first time on the ice.
"I loved it," Yencso said. "It's something new, and I enjoyed it."
Yencso's favorite parts of the event were being able to skate the full length of the ice and take several shots on net. The Fountain Valley resident feels he has benefitted from participating in the Top Flight program and looks forward to having the chance to expand his skills by learning to play ice hockey.
"I like the friendly atmosphere," said Yencso of Top Flight. "The games are great, and I've learned to be a better hockey player. I'm still getting there. I'm going to have to keep on practicing."
Also in attendance was Executive Director of the American Special Hockey Association, Dave Chase (ASHA, americanspecialhockey.org). Created in 2000, ASHA provides those with developmental disabilities the chance to learn and play ice hockey.
"This program is a long time coming in this area," Chase said. "Clearly there's need for this kind of programming for our special needs friends."
ASHA currently serves more than 2,000 athletes in 54 cities across the U.S. With three teams located in the north Los Angeles area (Simi Valley, Valencia, Pasadena) and one team in San Diego, Chase is excited about the possibility of adding a team that serves LA and Orange County.
"I'm ecstatic about it," Chase said, "and the fact that we can offer this kind of opportunity and have the parents come out and provide this for their children is great. I was really encouraged by what I saw today."
The goal of the on-ice event was to not only give Top Flight participants the chance to try a new aspect of the game, but to gauge interest in expanding the program to include ice hockey.
"I think from what we saw today, there is a foundation we can build off of," Chatfield said. "So the goal moving forward is to progress with an actual ice hockey league for the special needs community that stems out of The Rinks - Lakewood Ice.
"The kids had a great time," Chatfield said. "They scored a lot of goals, and there were a lot of smiles as they left the rink today."
For more information on the Top Flight Street Hockey League presented by CHOC, visit anaheimducks.com/topflight.