Chloe Jacobs knows figure skating. But the 8-year-old had never been on hockey skates before. Her first lesson: How to get up after falling down.
But after a few minutes of instruction, Chloe was gliding across the sheet at the Oakland Ice Center stickhandling a puck into an open net.
“That’s daddy’s little goon — er girl!” joked Chloe’s father, Omar Jacobs.
Saturday was Try Hockey for Free Day Presented by Kraft, a part of USA Hockey’s Hockey Weekend Across America. Or what Sharks Ice Hockey Manager Derek Donald calls “practically a national holiday for USA Hockey.”
It was also the debut of USA Hockey Foundation’s “It Starts With a Stick” campaign, which aimed, through cash donations, to put 12,000 sticks in the hands of youth hockey players over the weekend (It costs USA Hockey Foundation about $12.50 per stick). In Oakland, each of the 13 kids who showed up for Try Hockey for Free Day — the part of the weekend for young beginners — left with a free USA Hockey jersey and a free stick.
“You’re witnessing the birth of hockey players here,” said Donald, who manages three rinks in the San Francisco Bay Area, which are owned and operated by the San Jose Sharks NHL team.
Saturday happened to be the day the Sharks would play the Los Angeles Kings in the first outdoor NHL game played in Northern California (at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team). The Sharks, who like most NHL teams are involved in community outreach programs to build youth hockey interest, saw it as a golden opportunity to promote their youth programs, Donald said.
He had a busy day ahead of him; he would later shepherd dozens of kids to Levi’s Stadium for the game — and between periods they even got some ice time.
“The idea is competition through fun, not competition for winning,” Donald said. “Focusing on skill development and small-area games. Making it a fun event every time the kids come to the rink. … Our goal is to have a smiley face and a sweaty head when the kids are done."
The kids in Oakland ranged from age 3 — yes, age 3 — to age 8. Most were around 5 years old, and several had not been on ice skates before. Each were dressed in the locker room by Donald and his staff in pads, gloves, jerseys and helmets, which were adjusted to fit each little head (the locker room is stocked with donated equipment).
Safety is paramount.
“It’s a tough sport, but I think it’s a relatively safe sport,” Omar Jacobs said. “They’re geared up really good, so they can get out there and give it their all without worrying too much about getting hurt.”
Chloe agreed. She took a few falls, especially at the beginning.
“It didn’t really hurt, because I had padding,” she said. “It was fun."
The Oakland Ice Center has an Olympic-sized ice rink — a few figure skating classes were in session on this morning — and an NHL-sized rink, which was divided by soft barriers while youth and girls’ hockey teams were practicing. The Try Hockey for Free session took up about a third of the ice and lasted for about an hour.
“I almost skated,” said 5-year-old Eli Chany after the session as his dad, Ben Chany, helped him remove his pads.
It was Eli’s first time on the ice — and he was being modest. He actually skated quite well by the end of the session, and has a jersey and stick to prove it.
Most importantly from USA Hockey’s viewpoint: He’ll be back.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.