For the past three weeks, the Wings’ event marketing team—in partnership with Meijer—has traveled throughout the state, taking over the parking lots of select Meijer locations to host free street hockey clinics for children ages 7-12.
The 10-city tour, which is open to children of all skill levels, kicked off July 18 in Acme, Mich., and has continued with stops in cities like Mount Pleasant, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and its eighth stop in Ann Arbor.
|Event marketing assistant Ryan Stankus works on passing drills with 8-year-old Max Khomutin during Thursday's Street Hockey Summer Tour clinic in Ann Arbor. Photo by Josh Berenter |
Each tour session is completely free for participants and features an hour of hockey instruction, drills and games, as well as a healthy eating lesson from Meijer representatives. After the first hour of activities, the clinic wraps up with a 30-minute street hockey game.
All participants also receive a free T-shirt, water bottle, street hockey ball, sunglasses, graduation certificate signed by Ken Holland and Kris Draper and a complimentary ticket to a 2016-17 Red Wings regular-season game.
The brainchild of Red Wings director of events & game presentation Jim Biewer, the Street Hockey Summer Tour’s initial planning began over a year ago.
“We want to keep the Red Wings brand alive in the summer, and one of the main goals of our organization is starting the sport of hockey at a young age,” Biewer said. “We want to give kids—whether they’re avid players or they’ve never touched a stick—the opportunity to play, and I’ve wanted to do street hockey for a while, so we picked it up and ran with it.”
And if Biewer is the brains behind the Street Hockey Summer Tour, event marketing assistant Ryan Stankus is the brawn, running the show at each tour stop, making sure everything goes smoothly.
Stankus, who is one of eight staff members and coaches at each clinic location, is responsible for all logistics of the tour, making sure the inflatable rinks are set up, all safety measures are in place and the clinic is executed to plan.
“It’s been awesome. Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces and the joy it brings the parents is fantastic,” Stankus said. “Going throughout the state of Michigan, bringing a unique street hockey event to the people and having some fun with the kids has been a blast.”
120 kids have battled the heat at each tour location, including Thursday’s Ann Arbor stop where it was 90 degrees and sunny.
One participant that was unfazed by the heat was 8-year-old Ann Arbor resident Max Khomutin, who was enjoying the Street Hockey Summer Tour after spending the previous three days at Red Wings Youth Hockey Camp at The Joe.
Khomutin’s father Mike said his son is a lifelong Red Wings fan and he jumped at the chance to participate in Youth Camp and the Street Hockey Summer Tour.
“We signed up as soon as we heard about it, and it worked out perfectly being one day after Youth Camp,” Mike Khomutin said. “He loves the game and he can’t get enough. And this is free, so that’s always appreciated.”
The 8-year-old, who already has the signature long hair of a hockey player, has the Red Wings in his blood, being born just a few months before the Wings’ last Stanley Cup championship.
Khomutin said he has a picture of his son at 10 months old with the Stanley Cup after the Red Wings won it in 2008, so this week, everything came full circle for the father-son duo.
“For me, growing up during the Stanley Cup runs and now getting to see him play at The Joe was pretty priceless,” Khomutin said. “Watching him here playing street hockey with the Wings’ staff is great too. I can see he’s having fun and learning, so that’s all you can ask for as a dad.”
Although it was convenient for Khomutin and his son to attend the Ann Arbor clinic—which was just a few miles from their home—it’s often difficult for residents outside the Metro Detroit area to attend Red Wings events.
So for this tour, Biewer made sure those Wings fans from cities like Cadillac and Holland got the chance to participate.
“One of my main goals during planning was to spread it across the state,” Biewer said. “I wanted to make sure that when we did this, we did it right.
“When you go that far from Detroit, you see the positive response from people. We don’t get to do a lot of Red Wings events in some of the cities on the tour, so the parents are especially appreciative of us traveling out there, and it’s nice for us to be able to bring the Red Wings to them.”
Biewer said he thinks the Street Hockey Summer Tour has been a huge success so far, especially being its first year.
“The kids have had a blast,” he said, mentioning that each tour location has been completely booked. “They’re learning the game, having fun and at the end, when they get their awards and their free Red Wings tickets, they’re geeked about it. They’re out there having a ball.”
And Stankus echoed Biewer’s sentiments.
“I think it’s been a success, for sure,” Stankus said. “We’ve gotten excellent responses from kids and parents alike. Between the amount of participants signed up and the responses we’ve gotten, it’s been really fantastic.”
The tour wraps up next week with visits to Fraser and Allen Park, Mich., on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. Fraser’s tour stop will feature special guest instructor Darren McCarty.
And while the inaugural Street Hockey Summer Tour is still in progress, the Red Wings’ event marketing team has already started planning for next year.
“We’re definitely looking to expand next year, adding Red Wings players and alumni and hopefully going to different places so we can hit the locations that don’t get as much of a Red Wings presence,” Stankus said. “That’s the biggest thing looking forward, improving on what we’ve done this year, learning as we go and just making this into the best event it can be.”