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Success of Try Hockey for Free Day Evident in its Instructors

02/21/2017, 11:00am EST
By Greg Bates - Special to USA Hockey

Several USA Hockey Arena coaches reminisce trying hockey

As part of the 10th annual Hockey Weekend Across America, which has morphed into Hockey Week Across America, we are bringing you a series of features surrounding the celebration of players, coaches, officials, rinks and the many volunteers who make our sport great. 

The first time Jacque Lupinacci stepped onto the ice, she was four years old.

It was at a learn-to-skate program at the Plymouth Cultural Center in Plymouth, Michigan, and she was on the ice with her brothers and parents.

Lupinacci vowed that day she would never skate again. The reason? Her older brother was faster and a more fluid skater.

“It just wasn’t fair,” Lupinacci joked. “He’s four years older than me and we got on the ice and he could just go and I couldn’t. But it was all the more incentive to get faster, stronger and keep up.”

Lupinacci’s parents told her they would give her a few weeks off before hitting the ice again. She doesn’t think she’s missed more than a couple weeks on the ice since then in her entire life. Thirty years later, Lupinacci, now 34, runs the learn-to-skate program at USA Hockey Arena in the same city where she first got on the ice.

“I think that first experience plays a large part in the sensitivities we take towards starting our little ones on the ice,” Lupinacci said. “I think a lot of kids benefit from my ‘traumatizing’ experience.”

Lupinacci said at first learning to skate was challenging, but well worth pushing through to become a strong skater down the road

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Another coach at USA Hockey Arena, Brett Stephens, had a similar early-life skating experience.

Stephens was a natural on skates at an early age. At nine months, he was walking. Two months later, he was trying on skates in his parents’ living room and walking around on cardboard so he wouldn’t ruin the floor.

Stephens’ first time on the ice was at age two at Grand Oaks Ice Arena in Howell, Michigan.

“I got super upset because I couldn’t go down and skate with the older kids down at the other side because I couldn’t even make it down there,” Stephens said.

By the time Stephens was four, he was playing on a hockey team. His on-ice journey didn’t stop until after he played Division I college hockey at Western Michigan University

Terry Edison first laced up his skates at two years old, taking part in a learn-to-skate program.

“My older brother played, so that’s why I wanted to play hockey,” Edison said. “Watching my older brother, I wanted to do everything he was doing.

His initial skating experience happened 43 years ago, so Edison doesn’t have any recollection of the event. However, he does remember a monumental feat when he was three or four.

“What I do remember is the first time I stopped walking on the ice, because it was one, two, step, glide — that’s what they used to teach,” Edison said. “I remember breaking away from that where I could push off, and thought, ‘Wow, this is so much better.’ You could skate so much faster when you were doing that.”

Edison helps out with the learn-to-play programs at USA Hockey Arena and also coaches his 7-year-old son, who took three learn-to-play classes last year.

“Seeing him stop walking on the ice brought back memories,” Edison said.

Lupinacci, Stephens and Edison all had some apprehensions about their first time on ice and skating, but looking back, all three know they are better off for getting involved in hockey.

Kids around the country who wish to take a shot at the sport can attend Try Hockey For Free Day on Saturday, Feb. 25. USA Hockey Arena will be among over 300 rinks and associations introducing kids between the ages of four and nine to youth hockey as a part of Hockey Week Across America.

Lupinacci, Stephens and Edison will be three of the coaches on hand at USA Hockey Arena working with the young skaters. Activities at the rink run from 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Taking part in Try Hockey For Free Day is a good way for any youth player and parent to see if hockey is a good fit for their child.

Try Hockey For Free

“I think the biggest negative from people from a third-party perspective is the financial cost of allowing their kid to try hockey,” Stephens said. “By creating a situation for them to try it out and for parents to be able to literally do it for free and everything’s involved and they can get on the ice and do that, it breaks down that initial wall for people to have that new experience and be open to that new experience.”

This marks the third year Lupinacci will be coaching on Try Hockey For Free Day. She knows what to expect from the day and knows parents come in not knowing what it’s going to entail.

The young players can get comfortable trying on hockey equipment and getting on the ice for what is possibly their first time, as well as going through a guided practice.

“If you accomplish those couple of things in that day then you had a positive experience and you got to take advantage of a Try Hockey For Free,” Lupinacci said.

Lupinacci noted the hour-long session can be a great educational experience for parents as well. They can learn how to properly tie skates, what the differences are between figure and hockey skates and get any questions answered that might arise.

Lupinacci is hoping for a strong number of young skaters to attend Try Hockey For Free Day at USA Hockey Arena. In past years, ages of the participants have varied.

“I’m hoping that the majority of the kids that show up are four and older,” Lupinacci said. “I’m certainly not saying a 3-year-old isn’t capable. But I feel like with full equipment and everything like that, a little bit older you can have a better overall experience for something like this.”

Stephens will be coaching in his third Try Hockey For Free Day. He’s looking forward to teaching young players a sport that’s unlike any other.

“If they want to try soccer, they can go out on their side yard and try soccer,” Stephens said. “If they want to try basketball, they go out in their cul-de-sac and shoot a basketball at their neighbor’s hoop. Hockey is more of an event for them to try it. So for us being able to put together an event and allow them to be a part of that event, the excitement level is high.”

Lupinacci is excited to see what kind of crowd will attend Try Hockey For Free Day. She stressed it’s just an hour session and the price is certainly right.

“You cannot lose,” she said.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

HWAA Daily Themes

Date Theme
Sunday, Feb. 19 NBC's Hockey Day in America
Monday, Feb. 20 Salute to Players
Tuesday, Feb. 21 Salute to Coaches
Wednesday, Feb. 22 Salute to Officials
Thursday, Feb. 23 Salute to Local Rinks
Friday, Feb. 24 Wear Your Favorite Jersey Day
Saturday, Feb. 25 Try Hockey Day
Sunday, Feb. 26 Celebrate Hockey Heroes

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