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Flooring It

Northgate Elementary students get jump on hockey season with NHL Seattle t-shirts, learn-to-play gear and expert coaching

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

SEATTLE -- While NHL players had to wait until 4 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday for the first puck drop of the regular season, two Seattle fourth-graders named Maryam and Tatum were happy to discuss their early Wednesday morning floorball scrimmage at Northgate Elementary School. 

"That was so fun," said Maryam. "I never played hockey until this year."

"Oh, I have played hockey in a gym but not in real life," offered Tatum. "I do know how to skate. I took lessons."

Both girls are in Patrick Reynolds' physical education class at the school. As part of a partnership with NHL Seattle, the expansion team's director of youth and community development/training, Kyle Boyd, has been working with "Mr. Reynolds" and his classes. The results were on display in the scrimmage, complete with NHL Seattle t-shirts for the students and official NHL floorball gear provided. 

Students filed in with Reynolds and Boyd handing out black and white shirts, separating the group into the Black Team and White Team. Reynolds gathered the fourth-graders, who impressively quieted when requested. Does this guy do house calls? Just asking for a friend. 

Boyd explained the class period: Partner passing drills, stick-and-ball handling warmups, then game time. Any questions? 

One: Yes, what happens to the shirts after class?

Answer: You get to keep them!

Lots of cheering and smiles.

The stick-and-ball handling warmup is genius. Boyd and Reynolds asked the kids to count how many touches they can make with a forehand-backhand movement in 30 seconds. Then they quiz the kids on numbers: Raise your hands if you had more than 20. How about 30? 50? Then the bonus question…who thinks they had the highest number? 

"56! 92! 80!"

Two class periods later, Boyd asked the third-grade PE class the same question.

"44! 46! 80! 90! 100!"

No one ever said third-graders don't have vivid imaginations. 

Reynolds asked a follow-up question: "How many of you want to try again to beat your first number?" All hands shot up. 

There is so much good stuff happening here. Kids practicing diligently, each one with a stick and ball. Kids striving to better themselves. Kids not being impatient about playing the game. Kids counting. Kids making sure not to run into each other. 

"This is a great setting to introduce the game," said Boyd between gym periods. "Thanks to Principal [Deirdre] Fauntleroy and Mr. Reynolds."

Boyd, who played competitive hockey in his home state of Minnesota, said there are several objectives for the floorball sessions.

"We definitely want to create interest in the game, get the students to follow it or give it a try," he said. "But we also want to teach perseverance, love of physical activity and fitness, trying something new, setting long-term goals, these are all skills we value. 

"And we obviously want to make sure kids see themselves when they are watching hockey, know they have experienced it, no matter what their background."

NHL Seattle's partnership with Northgate Elementary is in part aimed at being involved in the neighborhood in which the team is building a brand-new practice and training facility featuring three ice rinks. 

Another reason is breaking down the barriers to participating in sports, whether hockey or other activities, said Mari Horita, the team's vice president for community engagement and philanthropy, in between filming some of the floorball action. Fittingly, her best footage was the fourth-graders participating in a traditional NHL team handshake that occurs between opposing pro teams at the end of each playoff series. 

"We believe in the principles of the USA Hockey organization that the sport can teach life skills and character," said Horita.

She listed a number of positive outcomes: Higher self-esteem, better academic performance (studies positively connect sports and grades), improved wellness and learning cooperation as teammates.

There are additional compelling reasons why Horita and NHL Seattle as one of the first of what will be numerous acts of community outreach: Approximately a quarter of all students are homeless, 73 percent participate in the free/reduced lunch program and 35 percent are English-learning learners.

"We so appreciate what NHL Seattle is doing," said Reynolds, in his sixth year as the school's PE instructor. "The kids have been so excited working with Kyle and learning the sport."

Reynolds is one of those unsung heroes of everyday life. Kids were freely skipping and jumping upon entering the gym each new period. 

"Even when a student is having a bad day, I try to make class a positive note for them," said Reynolds. "It's been rewarding to watch the little grow into the later grades."

Both the third- and fourth-grade scrimmages were lively and fun for all, with bunches of near-miss goals, especially for the third-graders. Boyd characterized it as "competitive with kids getting up and down the floor." Each contest ended in 1-0 scores. One reason is the Franklin Sports floorball equipment includes a popup nylon goalie-screen goal that has five smaller opening where a goaltender might allow a score: Upper right corner, lower right, upper left corner, lower left corner and what's commonly called the "five-hole," which is an opening on the ice between the goalie's leg pads. 

Not surprisingly, the two goals slid on the gym floor right into the five-hole. 

"It is always tricky to score a goal," said Boyd, who appeared to be smiling for four straight gym periods. "There are a lot of bounces in hockey, some things go your way, some don't."

Sounds like a life lesson in there.

Boyd said his time with the Northgate students touched him.  

"It's how they engaged with the game and Mr. Reynolds and me," he explained. "They come to us for advice, guidance, mentorship, asking 'how do I hold the stick, how do I score a goal?' It's a great start. We want to eventually get them out to the three sheets of ice [at the new Northgate Ice Centre]."

Favorite part of the day for this reporter: The fourth-grade White Team started their own "Let's go, White Team!" cheer. The teams each played with two shifts of players. So, when it was break time for Maryam and Tatum, they spontaneously started rooting for their White Shirt teammates in rhythm. Boys and girls on the Black Team sidelines followed their lead about a minute later.

"We thought it would be a good idea," said Tatum.

Boyd appreciated the moment.

"One of the great things about sports is it brings people together regardless of age," he said. "They begin to cheer for themselves."

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