Like many Minnesotans, the students at Como Park Elementary can tell you a thing or two about hockey.
What makes these youngsters different is what they tell you: They want to talk about composite materials to create ideal flexion of the stick; the geometry of a perfect banked pass off the boards; they’ll volunteer new ideas about pad design or maybe look at trends in their data analysis.
And they’ll tell you about it with a sense of passion and ownership.
These students are part of the NHL’s Future Goals - Hockey Scholar learning course, a program designed to foster a broad set of skills and train students in the critical thinking that will help them succeed in life.
On Friday, three Minnesota Wild players went to Como Park to check in on the hockey-focused STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) class and to make some new friends during the program's launch event.
“My favorite part are the angles,” fifth grader Leonel said. “I used to be kind of bad at them at first, but now I really understand.”
He’s not alone. A few seats down, fellow fifth grader Elijah deftly swiped through his iPad, showcasing his designs for goalie pads. He leaned back in his chair and pointed to the screen.
“There are just so many variables,” he said. “We get to try different materials and see how shooters do against them, and then analyze the results.”
For goalie Darcy Kuemper, the visit brought him full circle. Growing up Saskatchewan, he recalled members of the Saskatoon Blades, the local Western Hockey League team, visiting his school.
“It was amazing, and so inspiring,” Kuemper said. “We didn’t have an NHL team in our hometown, and it just meant so much to us to have them help us learn and make it more exciting. To be able to do the same thing for these kids is just incredibly special.”
Forward Charlie Coyle and defenseman Matt Dumba grinned as students — some of whom don’t skate — explained why they should rethink their blade hollow.
Como Park Principal Christine Vang watched from the hallway with a quiet smile, just in the background. The entire student-body has been outfitted with iPads, so when she heard about the tablet-based Hockey Scholar curriculum, it seemed like a perfect match.
“They’re completely engaged; this has just captured them,” Vang said. “Plus, they’re natives to this age of technology.”
When the students found out the players were coming, it created some anticipation.
“Oh, they got so excited, the teachers, too,” Vang said.
She looked over her shoulder at two Como Park teachers in Wild jerseys, then walked through a door rimmed in red and green tinsel to help usher everyone into the gymnasium.
The day concluded with an assembly, where the fifth and sixth graders got to ask questions of each player.
“What is your favorite team to play against?” “How do you prepare for games?” “How do you adjust to hard and soft boards at the different arenas?”
One mischievous NHL mascot exploded several confetti cannons, much to the shrieking delight of students and teachers alike.
Coyle, Dumba and Kuemper crouched low to take a group photo with the Hockey Scholar participants before heading home, and although the event was billed as a way for the Wild to give back to the community, it was clear much had been given to them, too.