|Islanders forward Trevor Smith works with kids on puck handling drills at Newbridge Arena. |
The weather on Monday evening was nasty, with cool temperatures and blowing rain. That mattered little, however, to the kids inside Newbridge Arena, who were having the time of their lives learning a new sport.
Skating on the ice—and occasionally sliding across it—two dozen boys and girls took part in various hockey drills during their weekly session of the Islanders Spring Hockey Academy. And there was one thing that every child had in common—a big smile.
Monday night proved to be a special night for the young players, as Islanders forward Trevor Smith and Assistant Coach John Chabot helped out with the on-ice instruction.
“It’s so much fun for me to go out and play with these kids who don’t have much experience,” said Smith, who led the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with 30 goals this season. “It’s not every day that I get to do it, and it’s not every day that they get to skate with a professional. It was a lot of fun out there.”
The Islanders Hockey Academy provides entry-level hockey players ages 6-14 with an opportunity to play ice hockey at no cost—equipment included. The Islanders know that it’s a big commitment, both in time and money, for a child to learn to play hockey and want to make it as easy as possible. All that is asked in return is that each child who participates sells 20 tickets to any combination of select games as a fundraiser.
Smith, who played in his first NHL game and scored his first goal this past season, was extremely impressed with what he witnessed Monday night.
“This is an unbelievable program that the Islanders have put together,” said Smith, who worked with many of the students individually. “Some of these kids wouldn’t normally have the chance to put on the skates and play this great game we all love to play. It’s awesome for the Islanders to do this.”
And, as an added bonus, it is a good way for the team to make some new fans.
“Islanders fans are awesome and when you can start them young, they tend to stick with you,” Smith said.
For Chabot, it’s about offering new opportunities and experiences to kids.
“It’s the basis for any professional hockey team—young fan’s support,” Chabot said. “To be able to spread the word about how much fun you can have playing this game. To play the game is different than watching it. It’s so much more than you would expect. The coordination it takes to do so many things—the skating, the stick handling, the passing, etc.”
Chabot went through various drills with even the youngest students, working on hockey posture and other basic parts of the game.
And at the end of the day, Chabot summed up his experience at the Islanders Hockey Academy with a very simple—but very astute—observation.
“It’s not very often you see a kid come off the ice with a frown on his face.”
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