Groups of kids ran to the skate rental area of the Oakland Ice Center on Dec. 10 and hurried to put on their skates and hockey gear. The ice center was filled with the excited chatter of young children as they eagerly anticipated their chance to skate with Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black hockey player, and San Jose Sharks players Devin Setoguchi and Tom Cavanaugh.
O’Ree, the NHL’s Director of Youth Development, was on hand at the Oakland Ice Center to promote the NHL’s Hockey Is For Everyone program — which is designed to offer all children of all backgrounds the opportunity to play hockey.
“I got lucky growing up, I was in every hockey program that I could’ve been in to get to where I am,” Setoguchi said. “To give back and come here to meet the kids and people who don’t get that privilege is a great experience.”
The enthusiastic kids in attendance were from Oakland Parks & Rec, Sports 4 Kids, Harbor House and Oakland School for the Arts.
The NHL pioneer was on the ice talking with the children, skating with them and giving advice on the rules of hockey. Many were also given one-on-one lessons by the hockey legend on how to pass the puck and grip their hockey sticks properly.
“It’s pretty cool to see people over here doing it (playing hockey),” Setoguchi said. “Hopefully, there’s more to come in the future.”
Cavanaugh helped out O’Ree with running hockey drills and teaching the love of the game to the kids in attendance.
Setoguchi kept the children occupied off the ice by answering their questions, talking with them, taking pictures and autographing pucks.
After all of the hockey drills, O’Ree and Cavanaugh joined Setoguchi in signing autographs, pictures, hockey equipment, shoes, t-shirts, backpacks and whatever else the happy kids brought up for them to sign.
Setoguchi did have to decline one request as a young boy asked him to sign his forehead; he signed the back of his hand instead.
O’Ree followed that appearance up with a visit to Sharks Ice at San Jose on Friday where he was partnered with Jonathan Cheechoo.
NEXT GAME The Shark will host St. Louis on Saturday night and the contest will begin on CSN+ and be joined in progress on CSN Bay Area. The audio side will be heard as always on 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets may be found at www.ticketmaster.com and at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.