ST. LOUIS -- The 2020 NHL All-Star Fan Fair Future Goals Kids Day presented by SAP on Friday was a memorable event for hundreds of St. Louis children, many exposed to hockey for the first time.
The collaborative effort between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association provided local students participating in the Blues Future Goals program with an opportunity to experience NHL All-Star Fan Fair at St. Louis Union Station and hear from professionals in the hockey industry who utilize the principles of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The program included a panel featuring two NHL all-stars, St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and Vegas Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty, as well as former Blues goalie Curtis Joseph, United States women's hockey player Nicole Hensley and Blues social media manager Elise Butler. The discussion was designed to give the students an inside perspective regarding how these important school subjects have an impact on the sport on a daily basis.
"It's really cool to see the relationship between teams and the community, and you see something like this [event], and the kids are so excited to meet the players and be a part of the organization," Pacioretty said.
"You feel like you're opening their eyes to the sport and what goes on in the sport. It's really cool to see the look on kids' faces for the first time seeing all this stuff. Excited to be here and hopefully we can teach some of these kids and inspire them to play the game."
Some of the highlights of the event included Pietrangelo taking a selfie with the crowd of children, the appearances of NHL mascots and their interaction with the children, a STEM-themed scavenger hunt, and Pacioretty and Pietrangelo playing various games with the students, including floor hockey.
With the Blues winning their first Stanley Cup championship in 2019 and now hosting the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend the following season, the local schools were thrilled to feed off the growing interest of hockey in the area and expose the sport to the next generation.
"This has been a very exciting year, and I think this is really special," said Jennifer Nugent, special education teacher at Long International Middle School in St. Louis and a big Blues fan. "We have kids at our school that love hockey and it's exciting for them, and then we have kids that don't know a lot about hockey and they're getting to know about hockey and how technology plays a role. Seeing the players as pillars of the community, telling them how important school is and how they use it, it's really exciting to get everybody involved."
The NHL and NHLPA use the third-party provider EverFi, which works directly with local schools to organize these events. The Future Goals program encourages kids to use hockey as a tool to present opportunities to get involved with sports, not only as a player but potentially behind the scenes in a multifaceted industry.
"I think the opportunity for Max and Alex to come today and spend time with 250-300 kids, expose them to hockey, interact with them directly, all underneath the future goals banner, using STEM and hockey, it's great," said Ryan Parker, manager of corporate communications at the NHLPA. "Our players really value giving back in ways like that, interacting with school-aged kids and expose them to a game they love that's given them so much and hopefully give these kids an opportunity to fall in love with the game, learn some new stuff and have fun doing it."
Pacioretty said this event was a reminder of how big a difference athletes and professionals can make in children's lives. Pacioretty, born in New Canaan, Connecticut, started playing hockey soon after the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, proving how far a sports championship can go in the community.
"Nobody in my family ever played hockey [before me]," Pacioretty said, "and when I look back at it, the Rangers winning the Cup in 1994 -- right after that I started going to the rink and skating and eventually signed up for hockey. The Rangers for me are probably the reason I started playing hockey and I ended up making a living out of it. You never know what's going to happen for these kids and that's why you do these [events].
"I keep that in the back of my mind; how much [hockey] affected my life and maybe I can affect other kids' lives."