BIRMINGHAM, Mich - The Farewell Season at Joe Louis Arena is just over a month away, and Red Wings forward Darren Helm is chomping at the bit to return to NHL action.
But Wednesday afternoon, Helm took a break from offseason preparation to join the Detroit Red Wings School Assembly Program at Holy Name School in Birmingham for the program's first assembly of the 2016-17 season.
Helm helped kick off the seventh season of the School Assembly Program where members of the Wings' Event Marketing Team introduce students to the sport of hockey through a floor hockey initiative, while also encouraging students to live an active and healthy lifestyle.
The School Assembly Program, sponsored by the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, Michigan Education Savings Program and The Kroger Company of Michigan, launched in 2010 and visits 115 schools each year to pass along its message.
"It's great. You see how excited the kids are and how happy they are just to see a player and be part of some games," Helm said after the 2016-17 kickoff assembly on Wednesday. "I think that gymnasium was as loud as The Joe can get sometimes. The kids were screaming, having a great time, so it's definitely nice to see and be part of."
The School Assembly Team opens every program with an interactive lesson on exercise, healthy eating, the growing issue of bullying and the importance of celebrating cultural differences, as well as the benefits of saving for college or higher education.
The end of each assembly also features an energetic hockey shootout, pitting students against teachers. On Wednesday, Helm joined the student team that defeated its teachers 1-0 in the shootout.
In addition to the interactive assembly, each school receives two full sets of floor hockey equipment complete with Red Wings-branded hockey sticks and nets, courtesy of the Detroit Red Wings Foundation.
Since its inception in 2010, the program has visited 622 schools, reaching more than 304,000 students and providing 1,244 sets of floor hockey equipment to physical education departments throughout southeastern Michigan.
"It's amazing. This is my first one and I'm really glad I was able to be part of it," Helm said. "They have a great message for the kids. It's hard to kind of think about that when you're that age, to eat healthy and be active instead of what we've got going on with TV and video games.
"But it's definitely important and hopefully the Red Wings-myself and other players-going out and sending that message to the kids, hopefully they can get that it's a big part of life."
Holy Name School principal DeAnn Brzezinski said she was ecstatic for the opportunity to host the Red Wings School Assembly Program at her gym.
"It's definitely what we promote; healthy living and healthy eating and exercise," Brzezinksi said. "We talk about doing this on a daily basis. I also think it's important for our kids to hear it not only from our staff and their parents, but from an outside source, so I think it solidifies how important it is."
This season, the Detroit Red Wings Foundation has ramped up its efforts to assist the School Assembly Program by also providing each school's physical education instructor with information on how to properly teach floor hockey at their school. Teaming up with USA Hockey, the guide books donated to each school include information on proper techniques and drills for students to better learn the game of hockey.
The Detroit Red Wings Foundation has also committed to update or replace old or damaged floor hockey equipment at schools the program has previously visited.
Brzezinski said she admires the message the School Assembly Program delivers, and having Helm in attendance on Wednesday helped that message hit home for her students.
"I thought it was amazing," she said. "Our students can really relate to professional athletes because they're wonderful role models for our kids, so they listen to that message more. Having that message of education, dedication and having the caring attitude of accepting everybody for who they are is exactly what our school promotes."
Last season, Red Wings players spent more than 900 hours in the community, and Helm's visit picked up where the Wings' left off as one of many community-engaging activities the team will participate in during the Farewell Season at The Joe.
|Students participate in stickhandling drills with Darren Helm during Wednesday's assembly at Holy Name School in Birmingham. Every student at each assembly receives an educational Red Wings folder filled with information about leading an active and healthy lifestyle. (Photo by Dan Mannes/DetroitRedWings) |
"It's really important. A lot of the guys are really involved in it," Helm said. "It's big whenever anyone can get out and show their faces and get into the community and see what they're doing. And whenever we can be a part of that, it's important."
Brzezinski said the concept of the School Assembly Program and the generosity of the Detroit Red Wings Foundation is a testament to the philosophy of the entire Red Wings organization.
"It's incredibly generous and wonderful of the organization," she said. "It says a lot about their message of generosity that they go out of their way to spread that message, so I think it's great. It helps connect our youth with their organization."
Helm, who signed a five-year contract to remain with the Wings in July, said he's excited to head to training camp in just over two weeks and get this season started.
"Like every year, you go in and you're looking forward to the next year, a chance to do a little bit better," Helm said. "We got a couple new additions. Unfortunately, we lost Pavel (Datsyuk), but I think the three guys that we're bringing in are going to be a big help for our team. I'm excited for that, and just excited to get going again. It's been a long summer for us. Just ready to get up to Traverse City and start playing some games."
For more information on the Red Wings School Assembly Program, or to register your school for a 2016-17 assembly, visit DetroitRedWings.com/SchoolAssemblyProgram.