Learning how to put on full hockey gear for the first time before heading onto the ice is a memorable experience in itself.
Now almost a thousand boys and girls will get that experience, as the Penguins distributed 930 sets of free equipment to children at six Dick’s Sporting Goods locations on Tuesday as a part of the Little Penguins Learn to Play Hockey program.
Thanks to Sidney Crosby
, the Penguins, Reebok and Dick’s Sporting Goods, each participating child receives free head-to-toe hockey equipment, including skates, in order to ease the financial burden on parents.
Now that the children have been outfitted, the majority of the 25 eight to ten-week Learn to Play programs will begin throughout the week at 22 local arenas – some as early as Friday.
"The goal has been to give more children an opportunity to skate and play hockey, and thanks to Sidney's efforts we're now able to outfit almost 1,000 of them with free head-to-toe hockey equipment," said Penguins CEO David Morehouse. "Of course, it also couldn’t happen without the support of Reebok, Dick's Sporting Goods and the local rinks and instructors, so we're all chipping in to give more kids the chance to experience this great game."
That number has significantly grown from a year ago, when the Penguins outfitted 600 children. The program, now in its third installment, is designed to introduce the game to more boys and girls ages 4-7 in the Pittsburgh area.
A unique aspect of this year’s program is the inclusion of four all-girls locations. The four programs, offered at Valley Sports Complex, Ice Garden, Planet Ice and Airport Ice Arena, will allow a total of 112 girls to play hockey for the first time, in addition to girls enrolled at other rinks in the co-ed programs.
The response for all of the programs has been fantastic.
The registration period for all 25 programs began on Nov. 30 at 10 a.m., with the first rink selling out in two and a half minutes, followed by another in three minutes. After the first five minutes of the first-come, first-serve process, over half of the rinks had reached their maximum capacity.
The growth of the Little Penguins program reflects the explosion in local youth hockey participation since its inception in 2008-09. During that time, enrollment in boys’ hockey has increased by 43 percent, and registration for girls’ hockey has increased by 39 percent.