Last month, the Vegas Golden Knights made a very simple offer to parents in the Las Vegas Valley: bring your kids to the park to try hockey, and we'll give them a free stick and ball.
Las Vegans most definitely took advantage of the offer, as over 3,000 children signed up for three Sticks for Kids clinics across the Valley, including over 1,000 this Saturday at Anthem Hills Park in Henderson. The kids learned the fundamentals of hockey from instructors from the NHL, UNLV Hockey, and the Las Vegas Ice Center.
For many of the kids, the clinic might spark a love for the game that will last a lifetime.
"It's wonderful," said Sean Whyte, the NHL's Youth Hockey Regional Director. "I love it. To introduce the sport to such a brand new market, and hopefully get them falling in love with the game is what it's all about."
Teaching kids the basics of hockey is not just about creating hockey players: it's also about creating hockey fans. Many participants were decked out in Golden Knights shirts and hats, and even if they don't ever set foot on the ice, they'll be able to follow the Golden Knights on the ice with a little more knowledge of the sport.
Nehme Abouzeid, Vegas Golden Knights' Chief Marketing Officer, is excited about that aspect of these clinics, as well as the potential to create new hockey players.
Video: Golden Knights continue youth hockey initiatives
"If you understand a sport, you're more inclined to follow it," Abouzeid said. "This is an introductory lesson to the game, and hopefully they'll migrate to our Learn to Skate programs at the Ice Center this fall, and then from Learn to Skate, they'll go learn to play and join leagues. But even if they don't, this allows them to decipher the game a little bit and become lifelong fans. "
Video: Murray Craven talks about Sticks for Kids
Parents are buying into the excitement of the Golden Knights, as well as their kids that are trying hockey. Lifelong hockey fan Jeff Corbo brought his three kids to the clinic in Henderson. A native New Yorker, he's thrilled about the team's inaugural season, and with the huge turnout to Anthem Hills Park, he isn't alone.
"It's something that I've dreamt about since I moved out here in 1999," Corbo said. "I always wanted a professional franchise out here, and when I heard hockey was coming first, you can imagine how excited I was."
These successful Sticks for Kids clinics are just the beginning of what will be an ever-growing interest in hockey from the local community. If 3,000 kids came out to learn hockey before the Golden Knights have even played a game, the sky is the limit for hockey in the Valley.
"Obviously, with 3,000 kids, the interest is there for a fast-paced team sport that they can try," Abouzeid said. "I think the foundation is there and the interest is there. There's so much competition with other sports, whether it's golf or basketball or baseball or soccer, but we want to be right up there with youth participation."