LOS ANGELES -- Willie O'Ree needed just one word to describe it.
"Fantastic," O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, said Thursday as he surveyed FanFair and the more than 2,000 schoolkids from the Los Angeles area enjoying the family-friendly hockey exhibits and attractions at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
FanFair, the 250,000-square foot official fan festival of the 2017 NHL Honda All-Star Weekend, did not officially open until Thursday at 5 p.m., but the kids, part of Future Goals Day, got first crack at the action.
"It's really fun," Sienna, a 10-year-old from Vejar Elementary in nearby Walnut, said after trying out the accuracy shooting exhibit. "I just got into hockey."
Two of Sienna's schoolmates, Zoey and Kalya, each 9, said they were also new to the sport. Zoey said her favorite part was the Dangle Zone, which allows participants to show off their puckhandling ability. She said one aspect of hockey that really intrigues her is how the players "don't slip on the ice."
Before the kids tried out the exhibits, which included the Centennial Fan Arena, a 53-foot traveling museum truck, they were welcomed to the event by former Los Angeles Kings forward Luc Robitaille, now the team's President of Business Operations, and Steve Mayer, the NHL's Executive Vice President and Chief Content Office. Also on hand were 12 team mascots, including the Kings' Bailey.
The students who attended the event are going through Future Goals -- Hockey Scholar, an online program that teaches critical Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills. Using hockey as a learning vehicle, the program helps students understand the real-world application of these principles.
O'Ree, Derek Armstrong, a former NHL center who is the Director of Hockey Programming and Curriculum for the Kings; Alex Rigsby, a goaltender with the U.S. National Women's Team; and Armen Dembekjian, Director of Operations for Staples Center, participated in a panel discussion that taught the kids how STEM skills apply to hockey.
Rigsby explained how understanding angles is the key to playing goalie, and Dembekjian told the kids how science is a big part of making and maintaining the ice at Staples Center.
O'Ree explained how technological advances have changed hockey for the better and, along with Armstrong, stressed to the kids the importance of getting good grades and staying in school.
"These boys and girls are at the age where they can set goals for themselves, what they want to be," O'Ree said after the panel discussion. "They're not too young. Education is very important. The schools that I go to emphasize that -- stay in school."
Thanks to their hard work, the students did get a day off to enjoy FanFair.
"I'm really enjoying everything," Kayla said.
FanFair will be open on Thursday and Friday from 5-10 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday.
Tickets to the 2017 NHL Fan Fair can be purchased online at NHL.com/FanFair or at the Staples Center box office during published event hours. Tickets are $20 for adults (ages 12 and up), and $15 for children between the ages of 3 and 12, seniors 65 and older, and college students and military personnel with valid ID. Children under the age of 2 will be admitted for free. All attractions are included with the price of admission. For more information, visit NHL.com/FanFair