Watching his daughter tumble to the ice during her first session of the Florida Panthers "Learn to Play" program at the Panthers IceDen, Benjamin Glixman held his breath for a brief moment.
But, just as quickly as she went down, seven-year-old Talyah bounced right back up.
"My little girl, she's tough," said Glixman, whose wife turned him on to the program. "She fell so many times and got back up. I was really proud of her. She roughed it out. I think she's going to progress. I'm really excited about her learning the sport… It was very inspiring to see other kids playing because she thought it was just for boys. It was nice to see that, too."
As for Talyah, a few falls here and there failed to keep an ear-to-ear smile off her face.
"I love hockey," she professed, speaking hurriedly in excitement. "I love how it's fun to do and gets your body moving a lot. My favorite thing is to learn a lot because I love doing new things."
It's kids like Talyah that the Panthers had in mind when they first launched their "Learn to Play" program in 2016. Looking to create the next generation of hockey fans and players, the program was created for boys and girls ages 5-9 to introduce them to the sport at a very affordable cost.
In conjunction with the NHL, NHLPA and USA Hockey, the program costs just $175, with every participant receiving six weeks of on-ice training from Panthers Alumni & USA Hockey certified coaches as well as a full set of brand-new hockey equipment, including skates, sticks and pads.
And, on occasion, you never know when an NHL star will lend a helping hand.
"It's great," said Panthers winger Mike Hoffman, who surprised Talyah's group by serving as a guest instructor for her and the other 50 first-time hockey players in attendance. "Obviously kids this age should be having fun from the start. It's a nice spot they can pick up. All these kids, the smiles on their faces, it's good to see. I'm happy I could help out."
The "Learn To Play" curriculum is designed in conjunction with USA Hockey's "Gold Standard," which utilizes an age-appropriate, long-term athlete developmental structure known as the American Development Model, which ensures the program's structure is both fun and effective.
Hoffman said he focused on teaching the kids three things during their first lesson: balance, bending your knees, and learning how to hold the stick properly.
"I started when I was 3 or 4 years old and then just went from there," Hoffman said of his own experience growing up. "You start at a young age and try and pick it up as quickly as you can… It's not easy… I was here at one point, too. Some of these kids picked it up pretty quickly."
Hoffman, who leads the Panthers with 22 goals this season, left the session very impressed.
"A few of them are probably better than I was the first time playing," he said.
The "Learn to Play" program currently runs in seven South Florida rinks: Florida Panthers IceDen, Glacier Ice & Snow Arena, Kendall Ice Arena, Palm Beach Ice Works, Palm Beach Skate Zone & Pines Ice Arena and one on the West Coast of Florida at Fort Myers Skatium.
"The biggest thing is getting these kids out here and getting them all that equipment," said Panthers youth hockey manager Matt Janusz. "That's the first step. We want to get them out on the ice, take all those hurdles out of the way of parents and kids. We want to help them every step of the way, show them how fun playing hockey can be and get them hooked."
To learn more about the "Learn to Play" program or to register for an upcoming session, please visit FloridaPanthers.com/LearnToPlay for more information.