Try Hockey Free day has been a wildly successful venture organized by USA Hockey to give kids aged 4-9 to experience the game. Without the potential barrier of cost, parents can allow their children a chance to get on the ice and give hockey a shot, no strings attached.
In November of 2011, more than 11,000 children participated in the nationwide event. With the added marketing muscle of the NHL and its member clubs, through television and in-arena advertising, Try Hockey Free instantly became one of the most successful youth sports events ever organized.
With the lockout hanging over hockey’s head and no TV or games to help promote the event to a wider audience, I expected turnout to be much, much lower this year. That projection was flat wrong, I’m happy to report.
According to USA Hockey, more than 10,000 boys and girls attended a Try Hockey Free day in one of 494 rinks nationwide. Considering Superstorm Sandy wiped out a few of the events, USA Hockey may have seen an even larger turnout.
According to Rick Nadeau, an event manager for the New York Rangers, New York Rangers are still planning on holding their Try Hockey Free event, which had to be rescheduled due to Sandy. Nadeau tweeted that they are expecting more than 1,200 kids at that event. So this number will get even better.
The incredible turnout is a huge credit to the organizers, led by USA Hockey’s membership development department, and the grassroots volunteers. Ten NHL teams ponied up and maintained their commitment to growing hockey in their area by participating in Try Hockey Free Day, which is great to see, but the large turnout is a direct result of the hard work of volunteers.
“We are thrilled to have introduced more than 10,000 children and their parents to the exciting game of hockey last week,” said Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development for USA Hockey in a press release. “Having made that initial connection to so many new families, we strive to take the next step of inviting them to get back on the ice and develop a passion for the sport.”
Getting these players back to the rinks at a time where hockey is not at the forefront or even partially in the national sports consciousness is a monumental accomplishment. The previous lockout had a significantly detrimental impact on USA Hockey’s membership over a two-year span. Events like this could help soften the blow that the current lockout is sure to have on the game in a variety of ways.
If you can get kids on the ice even that one time, you’re likely to have made a fan, which is good for all of us. Even if that player never plays organized hockey, it’s another person that had direct contact with the game in a memorable way. No one forgets their first steps on ice.
Try Hockey Free has become one of the marquee events for USA Hockey, which has grown leaps and bounds over the last 20 years. The NHL’s growth certainly has played a significant role, but the work being done by the people at USA Hockey and the thousands of volunteers across the country continues to be the lifeblood of hockey in America. Try Hockey Free Day 2012 is another terrific reminder of that fact.