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Growing the game of hockey to reach new families will benefit the sport.
That’s the mindset of Glen Andresen, the Executive Director of Minnesota Hockey, one that echoes the sentiment of hockey bodies around the world.
When Andresen realized it was no longer automatic that all kids play hockey in the winter, he knew Minnesota Hockey had to do something to attract those new players. He credits the Jr. Wild program, assisted by the senior NHL franchise, for helping facilitate the four-week learn to play program. It is now featured in over 20 locations in the state, and is run for kids who have never played organized hockey before. Held over eight sessions of ice, the program also provides starter gear, head-to-toe, for participants.
From there, Minnesota Hockey helps find them a place to register so they can continue building their skills during the season.
“At least they have some basic skills to get along on the ice,” said Andresen. “They’re not going to make the top team in their association, but I don’t think they care. The feedback is they don’t care about that. We also have a rec league that a lot of those players will go to.”
One takeaway that Andresen has from the program is that we don’t need to always push kids to play at a higher level. Some play just to have fun, and that’s okay.
“We see the craziness that overcomes hockey and youth sports. There’s a lot of focus on those top kids, and keeping up with the joneses. If you want to get that feeling of ‘here’s why I do this’ again, you see that again at a camp like this. These 9 to 13 year olds, they’re all out there with kids of similar abilities, so they’re all having fun. The innocence comes back, because you know that these kids aren’t doing this with aspirations to make the NHL. Hockey seems fun, I want to do it, and they go out and do it.”
The program also helps overcome some of the misconceptions about the sport. Not every practice is at 7 am on a Sunday morning, and not every family has to dish out the extra costs to register for hockey schools. There are programming options that exist based on the level you want to play, and the time commitment you want to make each week.
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