Bruins' alumni, ice truck greet Springfield's youth

by Dave Lozo /
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – About 40 children from the Sabis International Charter School took to the ice with former NHL players at the MASSMutual Center as part of a celebration of the Winter Classic ice truck's journey toward Boston.

The clinic, which featured former Bruins Tom Songin and Bob Miller, was held by The Hockey Project, a program that provides inner-city kids with certified training, equipment, ice time and scholarships for participation in youth leagues and summer hockey camps.

Basically, it gives kids who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity, a chance to lace up the skates and play some hockey.

"We started last year with our pilot. We had 20 kids; 15 of the came back, five of them tried out of middle school sports and made their teams," said Don Moorhouse, the founder of The Hockey Project and USA Hockey-certified coach. "The supervisor in school says these kids can either identify themselves as gang members or hockey players, that’s the choice. These guys decided they wanted to be hockey players."

The 90-minute event featured enough slipping and falling to make a grandmother with an artificial hip and wet bathtub cringe, but the enthusiasm from the kids was even more evident. The group of mostly novice players did cone drills, learned to skate without their sticks, worked on stopping and even took instructions on the proper way to fall.

The last one came in handy many times Tuesday evening, but the most important thing was that everyone – even former NHL players – was having fun.

"The kids are terrific," said Songin, who was with the Bruins from 1978 to 1981. "From in the locker room to getting them dressed, it was funny that they're putting their skates on before anything else. I was told they were go-getters and when they got out here I was very happy with what I saw."

And of course, the kids had a blast.

"It's really fun. It's an honor to be out there," said 12-year-old Jonathan Camacho.

One might think there would be a disconnect between Boston Bruins who made names for themselves in the 1970s and today's kids, but 12-year-old Jalil Gabe might as well have been sharing the ice with Alex Ovechkin.

"They were kind of cool," Gabe said of meeting Songin and Miller. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I finally met a celebrity. This is the happiest day of my life.'"

Gabe was especially excited by the tractor trailer with the Winter Classic logo parked outside the arena.

"The thing that's cleaning the ice?" asked Gabe.

No, not the Zamboni. The giant refrigeration unit on wheels outside the building.

"Oh yeah, that was huge. I asked if I could go in, but they said no."

Even the big kids got a kick out of the truck.

"I was excited to see it," Songin said. "I loved it. I'm looking forward to Jan. 1."

As part of the event at the MASSMutual Center, the Boston Bruins gave away 200 tickets for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic to 10 youth hockey organizations, including the kids from The Hockey Project. The New Year's Day game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins will take place at historic Fenway Park in Boston.

"I grew up in Boston and was fortunate enough to play a little for the Bruins," Songin said. "I remember them back then, it was the Broad Street Bullies, they had some tough teams. We fought them down the Zamboni runway with our skates on. It's quite a rivalry. It's going to be quite a contest.

"I think it's going to be outstanding for sure, but the Bruins are going to come out victorious."

The showdown at Fenway is still three weeks away. On this day in Springfield, it was the kids who were the winners.

"Everything has improved," Moorhouse said of the effect The Hockey Project has had on these kids. "All the grades have improved, their social standing in the school, everything. They've developed.

"And they love to play hockey now."