COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets have yet to skate this year at the Winter Park outdoor rink at McFerson Commons across from Nationwide Arena, but a group of Girl Scouts from central Ohio have, thanks to the Hockey Is For Everyone campaign.
Braving 30-degree temperatures Saturday, 150 members of the Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland skated, many of them for the first time, and got a clinic on the basics of hockey before attending the Blue Jackets game against the New Jersey Devils that evening.
"It was really nice. I actually enjoyed it," said Carmen Cunningham of Grandview, Ohio, who said she's "almost 10" years old. "I skated with my friends. We fell a lot."
With family and friends, the number of participants swelled to 376, said Julee Klima, program manager for the Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland. Her group was one of the first to participate in the Blue Jackets' month-long Hockey Is For Everyone initiative. Sled and special hockey teams are among the groups planned for the rink before it closes Feb. 26, said Blue Jackets director of communications Karen Davis.
The Blue Jackets will practice at Winter Park on Friday.
Hockey Is For Everyone is a campaign by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to spotlight the League's commitment to diversity and inclusion. The initiative runs all of February and is partnered with the You Can Play Project, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the LGBT community and fighting homophobia.
Forward Scott Hartnell is the Blue Jackets' ambassador for the campaign.
Klima said the Blue Jackets and Hockey Is For Everyone are good fits for the Girl Scouts.
"In the Girl Scouts a lot of people would like to work with us because we have access to a lot of people but we don't just partner with anybody," she said. "We sit down with them and work out a program to make sure it's meeting our leadership guidelines so they can earn a badge."
Yes, the girls earned a patch that looks like the Blue Jackets blue home jersey with the words "Girl Scout Night 2017" under the crest.
In addition to skating, the girls attended a "Hockey 101" clinic on the basics of the game conducted by Leslie Walker, coordinator for the Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association. She had players from the AA girls Blue Jackets give skating demonstrations and help in explaining the rules.
"Leslie talked about women in hockey," Klima said. "The nice thing is the volunteers come in and skate and that allows our girls to see women play a sport that they might not typically think is for them."
The afternoon skate may be paying dividends already.
"One girl said she decided she didn't want to do gymnastics anymore," Klima said. "She wants to play hockey."