They slip, they slide and sometimes collide with one another. Occasionally, they even call a self-imposed “time-out” and make a hasty retreat. There are tears of frustration and more than a little envy when they witness the more experienced children actually playing the game.
Welcome to the world of the Learn to Play Hockey newbies: future Medfield hockey stars in the making.
The program, which accommodates children aged four years old and up, is sponsored by Medfield Youth Hockey and is designed to teach ice skating skills and hockey fundamentals to the town's younger residents.
A vital part of the program is the volunteer participation of the Medfield girls' hockey team, who send members of the team to Norfolk Arena, each Saturday morning, to work with the children. Coordinating the team effort are Warriors’ co-captains, Amanda Cronin and Meara Stack.
“Without (the program) where would they learn to play?” Cronin asked, who has been playing hockey for the past 10 years. The Medfield High junior noted the girls' hockey team is five years old and has been involved with the Learn to Play Hockey Program for the past two years.
“I wanted to spread the joy of hockey,” Cronin said. “And to get more girls interested in hockey. Overall, girls hockey doesn’t [normally] get a lot of support.” The program invites both young girls and boys to participate in either of two “sessions” held each year between November and March, according to Cronin.
Cronin and Stack are primarily responsible for making sure there are enough volunteers scheduled to attend each session.
“Usually five or six members of the varsity team come each week,” she said. In addition, both Cronin and Stack are among the volunteers who work on-ice with the children; teaching them, at first, how to skate. Once they’ve become proficient on ice skates, Cronin and her teammates share their first-hand knowledge of the game with the students.
Cronin shares her interest in hockey with her siblings; sisters Ali, Andrea and brother Nick.
“I used to get jealous of my brother when he was playing hockey,” she admitted. “It looked like so much fun.” Cronin recalled being schooled in the sport by her father and through her own limited participation in the Learn to Play Hockey program. “I love hockey,” she said.
The Warriors’ co-captain admits working with inexperienced children can be challenging.
“It’s kind of hard teaching little kids. They just want to move around (right away),” she said. Cronin added the children are quick to adapt to their skates, overcoming their initial difficulties.
“I had this one child,” Cronin said, “who, when he first started, was crying all of the time. In about two weeks, he was up on his feet.”
The children start out by learning ice skating skills, under the tutelage of the volunteers, who divide them into groups for training sessions.
“Sometimes we’ll work one-on-one with a child, if it’s necessary,” Cronin said.
The children, who wear helmets with stickers to identify them as “beginners,” learn basics such as stopping and turning while on skates.
“We use shooting the puck as a reward,” Cronin said. “They love to shoot the puck. They see other kids doing (that) fun stuff and they want to move up.”
Also on hand at Norfolk rink was freshman Colleen Beggan, who felt participating in the program was a way of “helping out the community” by “using our skills to help other people.” Beggan was a forward with the Warriors prior to recently switching to goalie.
Amanda Cronin added the Learn to Play Hockey program was a good way to “help the system grow” by seeding the next generation of Medfield Hockey players.
The girls' varsity hockey team has invited Learn to Skate and Learn to Play Hockey participants and their families to attend today's game in Dedham against Dover-Sherborn, free of charge.