The Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend -- sponsored by the National Hockey League’s Hockey is For Everyone (H.I.F.E.) initiative, the Buffalo Sabres, and Hasek’s Heroes -- provides children and their families with a weekend of hockey skills, games, fun and memories.
The skills weekend allows youth, ages 13 to 16, to display their talents on a prestige stage; for two lucky Pittsburgh I.C.E. participants, the skills weekend will be an opportunity of a lifetime. “The participants are very excited not only to participate but to be representing Pittsburgh I.C.E. and the city of Pittsburgh,” says Howard Smith of Hockey Director of Pittsburgh I.C.E.
All participants will travel to Buffalo, New York on February 17 to 19 and receive first class treatment as soon as they arrive. To make their experience even more memorable, they will attend a Buffalo Sabres game; take part in various hockey clinics from Canisius College, a Division 1 NCAA Hockey program; and play a game on the final day of the event at the First Niagara Center.
“As a whole, this weekend is for the kids,” says Smith. “[It is a] chance for the kids to meet others from the various H.I.F.E. programs, to attend an NHL hockey game, to showcase their skills on an NHL hockey rink and enjoy the hospitality of the people of Buffalo, NY.”
Each participant was chosen to participate based on several criteria: age, community service, and dedication to the sport.
For the two Pittsburgh natives, the commitment on and off the ice surpassed the criteria. They both commit yearly to Pittsburgh I.C.E. and their involvement in the community - with various community groups - helped solidify the selection. As for their hockey skills, over several years, they have rapidly progressed in strength and accuracy and are now playing on teams.
In order to prepare, the usual Pittsburgh I.C.E. practices will continue with a strong emphasis on skating and shooting. During the skills weekend, the Pittsburgh participants will compete in the following events: Fastest Skater, Hardest Shot, Shooting Accuracy, & Break-Away Relay.
Since the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend started four years ago, the city of Pittsburgh has had the privilege of sending participants each year. With participants coming from as far north as British Columbia, Canada, Upstate New York, and as far south as Florida, there is no shortage of competition.
The advice Smith gives to everyone playing or looking to play hockey is, “Have fun. Enjoy learning hockey and as always...Hockey is For Everyone!”Pittsburgh I.C.E.
Established in October 2000, Pittsburgh I.C.E. (Inclusion Creates Equality) is a program that allows children and youth, ages 5 to 18, the opportunity to play ice hockey. With the support of the Pittsburgh Penguins and its Alumni Association, boys and girls can learn to skate and play ice hockey at no cost. If you would like more information on Pittsburgh I.C.E., please contact Howard Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
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