In the sport of ice hockey, the minor penalty “hooking” is called when a player uses his hockey stick to impede the progress of an opponent.
On the other hand, enthusiasts and volunteer coaches were guilty of trying to hook dozens of young athletes on the sport of hockey Saturday afternoon at a “Try Hockey for Free Day” at the Orange County SportsPlex in Hillsborough. In this case, all were happily guilty as charged, but “no harm, no foul.”
“We’re just trying to teach basic skills today,” SportsPlex Ice Hockey Director Ken DiOrio said at Saturday’s one-hour clinic. “It’s just an introduction so that maybe these kids catch the ice hockey bug.”
The Orange County SportsPlex invited boys and girls to the expansive facility on as part of Hockey Weekend across America, a press release stated. Local youths were introduced or re-introduced to the game and learned the basic skills in a fun, safe environment.
On that same date across the country, USA Hockey and 300 local associations hosted similar events, all presented by Kraft Heinz. Participating locations encouraged kids to come try youth hockey as part of Hockey Weekend across America.
USA Hockey’s Try Hockey program, with the support of the National Hockey League and NHL member clubs among others, was designed to provide youth hockey associations a national platform to introduce new kids to the sport. In addition to presenting sponsor Kraft Heinz, Total Hockey, and Liberty Mutual Insurance are official sponsors of Try Hockey For Free Days.
Located at 101 Meadowlands Drive in Hillsborough the 90,000 square foot Orange County SportsPlex is one of the state’s largest recreational facilities and one of only a few in the US offering an ice arena, aquatics center, and a fitness center under one roof.
DiOrio was more than pleased with the turnout of over three-dozen eager athletes Saturday.
“We usually average about 25 participants,” he said. “It’s amazing: I started here just a few years ago, and on November 3, 2012—my first official day here—we had eight kids for the Try Hockey Day. Today, we had great volunteers, we had 40 kids here, and the kids were all ages, boys and girls.”
Volunteers included coaches from the various age-group Hillsborough Sharks hockey teams.
“The volunteers for the Hillsborough Sharks of TYH (Triangle Youth Hockey) came out to help us, and with 40 kids out there, it was a huge help,” DiOrio said. “Hockey is growing, and these volunteers, they were a huge help, especially with a crowd like this.”
But the Sharks’ volunteer coaches weren’t without their ulterior motives.
“Most of the kids who come out are beginners—it’ll probably be their first time playing,” Hillsborough Thresher Sharks coach Aaron Keane said. “Rarely have I seen anybody who’d done much more than a little free-skating or pond hockey. But we’re sowing seeds for the longterm. We know Try Hockey seeds the Learn to Skate and Learn to Play programs. We know we need numbers—we’re competing with a lot of different programs.”
“If we see kids that have lots of raw talent, we tell them, ‘Maybe you should be in this (other) program,’” DiOrio said.
Among those putting their talents to the test on Saturday afternoon were young hockey fans like Duncan Price and his younger brother Henry Price.
“We heard about this (clinic) through the SportsPlex,” the boys’ mother Christy Price said. “We come out here skating quite a bit.”
For young Gaines Forkner, hockey was a casting call straight from Hollywood.
“He has an older cousin who plays hockey,” Gaines’ mother Toni Forkner said at the event, “plus we were watching an old black-and-white movie with a hockey storyline, and (Gaines was riveted). He’d had skating lessons, but this is his first time playing hockey. This is also the first time in hockey skates, but it still looks like he’s having a good time.”
Sonya McGee brought her two boys – Carson, 8, and Tristan, 11 – to the clinic to avoid further property damage at home.
“Right now, my dining room’s their hockey rink,” she said, laughing. “We used to come to the SportsPlex for summer camps, and they’re really interested in playing hockey.”
For Lucie Talikoff, 10, hockey was another way to level the playing field with her brothers with whom she plays football, and a way to bash boys around a bit.
“Exactly,” Talikoff said, with a wide grin. “I like skating, and I don’t really know how to play hockey, but I think this would be really cool. I’m really not that good at skating yet, but I’m just trying this to see if I like hockey.”
Hillsborough Tiger Sharks volunteer coach Emily Howlett, 17, prefers to find the girls at clinics and hockey events like Saturday’s to make sure they’re not intimidated by the boys or the rough sport.
“I mostly hang out with the girls, because I’m trying to convince them to play for us,” Howlett said. “There aren’t enough girls in our league right now. There are leagues in Raleigh, so I’m trying to get the girls to stay here and play for us. The girls were fearless today, though.”
DiOrio said hockey is a sport for boys and girls at the SportsPlex.
“We try to make Try Hockey an event for everybody,” he said. “Hockey shouldn’t be seen as a male-dominated sport, and now there’s even a National Women’s Hockey League.”
Everyone attending the clinic received a brochure for hockey camps at the SportsPlex, DiOrio said.
“Everyone has a goodie-bag, and in that bag was a brochure for our camps – summer camps, Learn to Play, and Rink Rats hockey,” he said. “These are both introduction to hockey programs, but they’re just geared toward different ages. Plus they got a stick and a shirt, compliments of USA Hockey.”
And while kids arrived wearing anything from official hockey helmets to Spiderman bicycle helmets, most every young athlete left wearing a smile.