NEW YORK -- Arron Asham hasn't played professional hockey since 2014, but he remains passionate about the game and is doing everything he can to help grow the sport.
Asham is the lead New York Islanders alumnus associated with the Learn To Play program, which was developed jointly by the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association to offer more families a chance to experience everything that makes youth hockey so rewarding.
Learn to Play provides first-time participants free head-to-toe equipment, weekly sessions of age-appropriate on-ice instruction and certified coaching, led by NHL alumni. This is Asham's second season with the program.
"What they're doing to grow the game is tremendous," said Asham, a forward who played 789 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers before retiring in 2014. "When you get eight sessions with an NHL alumni, you get brand new equipment … it's just great that they're trying to grow the game. I just love working with the kids. It's fun."
The children involved in the program range from ages 5-9. Asham, who played four of his 15 NHL seasons with the Islanders (2002-07), loves to see the different reactions from the younger and older children.
"There's a lot of personalities out there," Asham said. "It's a little bit of a learning experience, but I just love working with the kids.
"I'm hoping to continue it and I hope I keep working with them. It's tons of fun."
Nicholas Mauro of Massapequa, New York, participated in the program last season and has since become enamored with the sport.
"My coaches were the best. They made learning hockey so much fun," he said. "I never wanted to leave the ice."
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Nicholas' father, Luke Mauro, said, "The Islanders have sparked my sons desire to play hockey and have created a fan for life."
Asham said there are 200 more children involved this season on Long Island after a successful first year.
"Last year, our goal was to get (270) kids, and we hit that goal. This year, we have (620) kids," Asham said. "We're usually out there three or four hours a week doing our clinics and trying to mold these kids into fine young hockey players."
With November being Hockey Fights Cancer month in the NHL, children in the Learn to Play program across the United States and Canada have worn lavender jerseys and used lavender stick tape in an effort to help build awareness.
"I have a mother-in-law that's going through it right now," Asham said. "I have a good friend that's going through it in London right now with throat cancer. Anytime we can spread some awareness and help out people [who] are fighting this awful battle -- this month's very important and it means a lot to me."