On a warm Saturday morning as temperatures were climbing toward an unseasonably pleasant 60-degree February high, a group of kids made their way to the ice rink, some about to play hockey for the first time.
Waterloo Black Hawks players and staff and The Optimist Club of Waterloo joined forces to provide children in the Cedar Valley with a unique learning opportunity at Young Arena. The team’s free “Learn to Play Hockey Clinic,” lasted approximately 90 minutes, but the groups of enthusiastic players who laced up their skates have a new appreciation for the sport which will last far longer.
“The hands-on encouragement and support from the Waterloo Black Hawks players…was awesome,” said parent Kari Zupancic. “I know it can be difficult to round up equipment and everything needed. I thought this clinic was fantastic.”
Zupancic expressed the sentiments of many parents and thanked the team warmly.
Almost a third of the kids who took the ice on February 18th had never skated, let alone played the game of hockey. Several others were members of the Waterloo Youth Hockey Association House League, which focuses on beginners who do not play youth travel hockey.
WYHA House League Director Brent Westphal spent countless hours rounding up spare equipment so that the new hockey players could get on the ice and experience the game. Once they were equipped in full gear, Black Hawks players took it from there.
“Growing the game of hockey is really important, especially as we go on through our careers and try to get these kids more interested in the game,” noted Black Hawks forward Alex Limoges.
Participants rotated from a tour of the Black Hawks locker room to a dryland training session to an on-ice skills practice, all led by Black Hawks players and coaches. Almost 90 boys and girls from ages 4-12 were able to go behind-the-scenes and learn the game of hockey at no charge.
“The opportunity to give back to these kids is something that we take a lot of pride in,” stated Black Hawks Head Coach PK O’Handley. “Our players and coaches had just as much fun as the participants did.”
The event kicked off USA Hockey’s “Hockey Week Across America” initiative, an effort to celebrate the game of hockey and those involved at all levels, while also introducing the sport to new audiences.
This is the first time that the Black Hawks have teamed up with The Optimist Club of Waterloo to conduct an event. Optimists are dedicated to bringing out the best in kids through volunteer service projects in their communities. Optimist Club members help to empower young people to be the best that they can be.