Since October 2006, the Nashville Predators have been helping children ages 5-8 years old try hockey for free through their Get Out and Learn! (G.O.A.L!) program presented by Erie Insurance.
Held first at Nashville’s Centennial Sportsplex and Franklin’s A-Game, G.O.A.L! recently expanded to the brand-new Ford Ice Center in Antioch, opening up even more opportunities for kids to get their feet in skates and on the ice. During a G.O.A.L! session, participants receive on-ice instruction from USA Hockey certified coaches, complimentary hockey equipment, sticks and skates to utilize during the program and a hockey jersey to keep as a souvenir.
In the last year, Jamey Campbell’s sons Mason and Miller both participated in G.O.A.L! Both Mason, age 7, and Miller, age 5, had attended Preds games at Bridgestone Arena for a few years, but had only played organized soccer before trying hockey through G.O.A.L!
“Our sons have been soccer players, but love the Preds and they have spent hours in our street and back patio playing hockey on roller blades,” Campbell said. “We are excited for them to have been able to try out ice hockey for free before committing to a full season blindly.”
During G.O.A.L! sessions, kids learn the basics skills of ice hockey, from forward strides and stops and starts, to stickhandling and shooting, all free of charge. While the goal is to get children on the ice and learning the sport of hockey, the G.O.A.L! program also helps teach kids about teamwork, sportsmanship and self-confidence.
“Both kids received great attention,” Campbell said. “Most recently, Miller was given excellent attention and support by the coaching staff. They gave him the leeway to skate with kids at his skill level rather than letting his age dictate his grouping. He felt really encouraged and came off the ice excited every night.”
In early October during a G.O.A.L! session at Ford Ice Center, Nashville Predators players Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg showed up for a surprise visit and got on the ice with the kids, helping pick them up when they fell and showing them a few tricks of the trade.
Ekholm, who recalled having fellow Swede Johan Hedberg make an appearance at his hockey school when he was a kid, was excited about the opportunity to help the kids and give them the same opportunity that he had back in the day: the opportunity to skate with an NHL player.
“It feels almost like it was yesterday that I was like them, just stumbling around on the ice,” Ekholm said. “You see [the kids] fall down and you help them up and see the smiles on their faces. The Predators do a lot of these type of things and we’re just fortunate to be a part of it.”
In a place like Nashville, a city that has only had an NHL team since 1997 and is seeing ice sports begin to grow in popularity, the G.O.A.L! program is one of the keys to getting kids on the ice for the first time.
“It’s a really good opportunity to spread hockey and spread the Preds,” Forsberg said. “With more hockey players here in Middle Tennessee, it’s good for the future in Nashville.”
As Forsberg mentioned, the sport of hockey is growing in the mid-state and the G.O.A.L! program regularly does its part to get kids on the ice to try the game without having to make a large time or financial commitment.
“For us, G.O.A.L. is a terrific match for our parenting approach of ‘let them try out whatever interests them,’” Campbell said. “Any of the rinks are a time commitment for us coming from Sumner County. The fact that we are out our time, but no participation fee to get our sons on the ice with a stick in hand was great.”
For Mason and Miller Campbell, the G.O.A.L! program was the perfect introduction to the sport, as this winter, they will both skate on weekend Ford Ice Center house league teams.
“Our family is hockey-hooked and we cannot wait to let the boys experience hockey under great instructors and a terrific franchise, top to bottom,” Campbell said.
The Nashville Predators, in conjunction with USA Hockey, will offer a special one-day Try Hockey for Free session on Nov. 8 at Ford Ice Center. For more information on this session and upcoming four week G.O.A.L! sessions, visit www.nashvillepredators.com/goal.