Growing Hockey from the Grassroots Up / page three

“Karma is a funny thing.”    – (Greg Garcia by way of) Earl Hickey

To engage in a dialogue with the people who have devoted a chunk of their lives to this work is to discover a small society of individuals for whom the aggregate of triumphant moments defines their jobs.  The programs,  personalities and paths they have taken all differ.  One of the unifying features they share is a great deal of satisfaction in the nature of what they do.  It is communal, it is unselfish and it is the embodiment of sports heroism.

Andee Boiman found it hard to pick a single moment among the many that has made  her work so enjoyable,  “I don’t know if I could lump them into just one… the time we took a team to the NHL All-Star game to play other youth teams, the time we took kids to a national skills event and our ‘southern hockey’ kids did just as great as the well-seasoned markets, turning 5th ave into a giant street hockey rink lined with hay bales, attending my first NHL/USA Hockey meeting and realized I was part of something bigger, opening an issue of USA Hockey magazine and seeing a published article about my efforts in Nashville to grow the game (the same magazine I tore open to read as a kid), hosting Willie O’Ree in Nashville and taking him to the rinks and schools to hear his story, winning the first round of a playoff series at home, bringing a Preds player to youth practice, carrying the nervous kid on the ice during an intermission just so he could be with his team, yet refusing to put his skates on the ice, or maybe after 7 years being a part of a child’s first step on the ice and then seeing them at summer camps, coming to Preds games, playing on a local team, playing high school hockey, college hockey, becoming part of our internship program and all along seeing them smile and the continuous thank yous from the parents for helping their child get into something they enjoy so much.”

Her enthusiasm was echoed by her colleagues:

Hillary Hodding sees her job, learning curve, rebuilding and all as the right place for her.  “I love having the freedom to try new things.  Not everything that we do is a success, but you take your ideas that didn’t pan out and massage them into a model that will work in the future.  Being able to try out new things gives me an outlet for creativity that also helps me hit my goals.”

Pete Robinson gets a lot of satisfaction from his work as well, whether it’s witnessing the sheer glee  experienced by the 700 kids who go through Washington’s  local shootout program every year or “watching  kids who know nothing about hockey and can barely skate grow up into huge Caps fans and hockey fans that love to watch the game and play the sport”.

“It’s all about giving back to the community that gives you so much.”  says Brian Bradley.  “Playing for Tampa Bay was a great experience and I’ve built a career and raised a family here.   To me, it was never a question that I would want to help the sport continue to grow locally.”

Feedback is  important.  Hodding reported that she is already getting emails about her women’s programs for next year.  Kevin West has also seen positive responses to his work for the Coyotes. “I am very proud any time I receive an email from a satisfied fan or parent or someone that we have introduced to the sport of hockey.”

To most fans, teaching people about hockey sounds like a dream job.  It should be noted that such a position inevitably comes with its share of challenges: long, often irregular hours, dealing with the occasional skeptic and sometimes having to do an on-ice variation of the loaves and fishes miracle when budgets get tight.  Technical skills (or at least the ability to be a very quick study) are a must, but there has to be the ability to empathise with the people who will be served by these programs.  The capacity for thinking outside of one’s own skin is a nonnegotiable requirement to do the job well.  For the right person it’s just another part of the job description and the challenges are easily eclipsed by the satisfaction that comes from seeing the end result.

For more information about these great programs, please visit their websites:

Los Angeles Kings Local Hockey and Fan Development

Nashville Predators Hockey Programs

Phoenix Coyotes Youth Hockey Development

Tampa Bay Lightning High School Hockey Development

Washington Capitals Local Hockey

(Jas Faulkner)

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