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Try Hockey for Free Day a fantastic success

by Brian Croce / New York Islanders
The Islanders hosted Try Hockey For Free Day at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday in a league-wide effort to broaden children’s interests in the game of hockey.

Seventy children who are new to hockey got to try the sport for free today on Coliseum ice. Click here to see the photo gallery from today's event.
USA Hockey joined forces with the National Hockey League to get children on the ice all over the country. Nearly 10,000 kids tried hockey for the first time on Saturday at 430 ice rinks in 47 states.

“Try Hockey For Free Day is an initiative started by USA Hockey because they want to try to develop and grow the sport within our country,” Joe Eppolito who represents New York State on the USA Hockey Board of Directors said. “Most of the NHL franchises are in the U.S. and the number of American kids playing hockey had dwindled in recent years, but it’s such a great sport that we want to do everything in our power to increase our membership, while growing and retaining the number of players we have.”

Michael Papillo of West Babylon brought his sons Michael and Daniel over to the Coliseum on Saturday. It was their first time skating on ice before and Papillo was envious that they were skating on the same rink as the pros.

“They’ve grown up watching me watch the Islanders, so now they’re starting to get into the game themselves,” Papillo said. “It’s a dream of mine. I wish as a parent I could get out there. I’ve never skated on the Coliseum ice.”

There were 70 spots available at the Coliseum for kids ages 4 to 9 to participate in Try Hockey For Free Day, which is a part of Come Play Hockey Month. Each spot was taken within three days of the announcement.

Michelle Winter , the Islanders Manager of Amateur Hockey Development said the day was a big success.

“It went really well,” Winter said. “The response was overwhelming. I had a waiting list. I’d love to do it again next year, but bigger. I think the appeal of skating at the Coliseum is huge, so why not?”

Eppolito was also pleased with the turnout and said days like this are a great way to expand the game of hockey.

“It’s a way to introduce a sport that a lot of people really like but maybe haven’t tried or want to get to know more about it,” Eppolito said. “USA Hockey is undergoing a number of initiatives to try and grow the game and get more kids playing hockey.”

One of those kids who laced up his skates at the Coliseum today was seven-year-old Daniel Kogan. Like many other participants he had some prior skating experience coming into Saturday, and like every other participant he enjoyed himself skating in an NHL arena.

“(I learned) that hockey can be fun all the time,” Kogan said. He and his family traveled from Brooklyn to take part in the fun.

Andrew Morenberg, the Hockey Director at Iceworks in Syosset, led the two sessions and said he and the other coaches focused on fundamental skating techniques in addition to some advanced drills for those who had some skating experience.

“The whole idea of today is to give kids a taste of the sport and hopefully there will be a number of the kids who participate to start participating in programs at other rinks,” Morenberg said. “As long as they’re on their feet and having fun, they can learn.”

There were kids who had trouble staying on their feet, but they certainly had fun. Morenberg said he was happy to be a part of the event.

“The turnout we had today was fantastic,” Morenberg said. “We had 70 participants and we were able to provide to provide gear to all of them. Every kid who participated here had a chance to get on the ice and got a taste of what the game has to offer and hopefully after today we have 70 new hockey players that will participate in the sport for a long time.”

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