This past Saturday, more than 11,000 kids tried hockey for the first time. Children between the ages of four and nine got to skate, handle a puck, play some games and wear the equipment that looks so cool on TV. It’s safe to say at the very least, a few thousand kids caught the bug Saturday.
Similar to telling your skeptical friend not to judge hockey until they actually see a live game, most people involved in youth hockey feel (and I do too) that all you have to do is just get a kid to try it once. By taking away the burden of cost this one time, thousands of kids who would not have previously tried hockey gave it a shot. Chances are, a good portion of them will be coming back.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the numbers provided by USA Hockey regarding this wildly successful event…
More than 430 rinks in 47 states across America opened their doors to kids and the payoff was immense. Giving 11,000 kids this opportunity is well worth the cost of the ice used to make it happen.
Some of the locations USA Hockey highlighted in its release linked above:
More than 1,000 kids tried hockey in the New York City area, at seven rinks. The New York Rangers were heavily involved in New York City’s Try Hockey Free Day, and the added marketing muscle of an NHL team certainly paid off in a big way.
Right by me, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 89 players showed up for the 1 p.m. session. Iowa isn’t exactly a youth hockey hotbed, despite being the home to many Junior clubs. To have 89 new players show up, even getting half of them to come back would make an indelible impact on a local youth hockey organization.
Colorado Springs Youth Hockey, which plays out of a rink directly across the street from USA Hockey’s offices saw nearly 100 new youth hockey players come out.
Down in Greenville, N.C., 128 kids showed up to try hockey. Just last season, Greenville’s local youth hockey organization had just 31 registered players under the age of eight. This event has the potential to significantly grow the youngest levels of youth hockey in that area.
Also in North Carolina, the Cleland Ice Rink at Fort Bragg hosted 65 new players.
In Austin, Texas, Chapparal Ice Center granted ice to 67 kids.
The southern markets continue to defy the tag “non-traditional” and are living up to the term coined by a Nashville Predators exec, “new-traditional.”
Hockey can be an expensive sport, with so many road blocks to participation, but providing one day where there are no roadblocks goes such a long way. More youth hockey organizations are trying to find ways to lower costs and make the game more accessible to local youths.
While cost is often a major roadblock, another is intimidation or uncertainty about trying a sport played on ice. Skating is not an easily-acquired skill, which scares some kids away. Giving them an opportunity to try it with a bunch of other kids who are going out there for the first time is comforting. Once they see how fun it can be and that it’s not as hard as it looks, they’re bought in.
It is also important to note that USA Hockey hosted a series of Try Hockey Free Days throughout the country over the course of the season. There was also one designated national Try Hockey Free Day, which saw an attendance of 6,000-plus children. In total, more than 9,200 tried the game for the first time last season at a Try Hockey day.
That means, USA Hockey saw around 2,000 more Try Hockey participants in one day than it saw in multiple events all of last season. Truly incredible.
But wait! There’s more! USA Hockey is planning a second Try Hockey For Free Day as part of Hockey Weekend Across America. So there will be another opportunity for thousands of kids to give the game a shot on February 18, 2012.
One other very important note is just how much can be accomplished when the NHL and USA Hockey work together. Come Play Youth Hockey Month and Saturday’s Try Hockey For Free Day was a joint effort from both entities and it was a rousing success.
The NHL’s marketing muscle and the tools it has at its disposal to promote such events like this bring so much more exposure and awareness. The NHL has taken an active interest in grasroots hockey in the U.S. and Canada and its influence is being felt in a big way. The league is to be commended for taking such an active role in growing the game.
The growth of hockey in this country over the last five years has been truly incredible. With more events like Try Hockey Free Days, Come Play Youth Hockey Month and Hockey Weekend Across America, the game will continue to expand its influence over the United States, creating more players and fans. It’s a great time to be a friend of hockey in the United States of America.