STOCKHOLM -- As Mathieu Joseph skated around the Ericsson Globe ice following practice Monday, several unsteady kids wobbling after him, the Tampa Bay Lightning forward couldn't help but think about his introduction to skating almost two decades earlier.
Joseph said he was 3-years-old when he was involved in figure skating. He wouldn't start playing hockey for another three years, but it almost never happened because he wanted to quit. He couldn't skate backward, and he was frustrated.
"I still can't skate backward but at least I didn't quit skating and after that I got to play hockey," the 22-year-old from Laval, Quebec, said with a laugh.
So Joseph intrinsically understood the importance of the youth initiative co-hosted by the NHL and NHL Players' Association on Monday that brought 15 first-time skaters onto the ice for an introduction to hockey.
Each skater between the ages of 6-9 was on the ice for the first time. They were helped by 15 older players from youth clubs throughout the city, as well as Joseph and Brayden Point from the Lightning and Victor Olofsson and Johan Larsson of the Buffalo Sabres.
The Lightning and Sabres will play in the 2019 NHL Global Series beginning Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV). The second game is Saturday.
The event Monday was a pilot of a program overseen by the Stockholm Ice Hockey Federation that will perform outreach through the city's school to introduce the children of those who recently immigrated to Sweden to hockey in a fun and inexpensive way. The equipment for the clinics will be provided as part of the support by the NHL and NHLPA.
"These kids don't have the natural way into the ice hockey," said Carina Oddsberg, the operating manager of the Stockholm Ice Hockey Federation, the largest of the 22 regional federations across the country. "We are very much looking forward to getting some new groups into our ice hockey program."
The initiative will bridge the gap to children who aren't introduced to the sport in more traditional ways, specifically a family member or friend that had played it previously.
"They have a dream of one day playing hockey and we are making dreams come true, [which] is always a good thing," Joseph said.
Oddsberg said the presence of NHL players as guest instructors sent an important message to everyone involved in the pilot event of this program, which begins in earnest in January.
"I think it is very important that you can see they are supporting our project and send the signal that everybody is welcome to ice hockey," Oddsberg said. "You can see they want to support the grassroots hockey in Stockholm. It's exciting to see them get on the ice and take care of the kids. We also appreciate so much the support of the NHL and NHLPA on helping us highlight this important upcoming initiative."