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Lace up, glide along and slap some pucks: kids can try hockey for free this Saturday

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If your child has visions of skimming the ice, hockey stick in hand, in a mad dash to slide a puck into the net, that vision can become reality — and for free, Sharon Valyear-Gray says.

As coordinator for the Try Hockey For Free program, Valyear-Gray encourages families of kids ages 4 to 9 to visit the David M. McCarthy Memorial Ice Arena from 11:40 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. this Saturday and give it a whirl. All they need to get started is a hockey or bike helmet and winter gloves. Free rental skates and the introductory lesson are free.

“The Event is a part of USA Hockey Week Across America with the support of the National Hockey League and NHL member clubs, among others, and is designed to provide youth hockey associations with a national platform for introducing children to the sport, free of charge,” Valyear-Gray said Wednesday. “It is hosted by the Genesee Amateur Hockey Association and we have participated  every year except two during Covid.”

She is a bit disappointed with a total registration of about 20 kids so far, as the sport and this opportunity have usually drawn more interest, Valyear-Gray said. Prior years (since its inception in 2010) have usually meant 25 to 35 youngsters slapping hockey pucks around and learning to balance on thin skate blades.

As a core member of Friends of the Rink, Valyear-Gray has been coordinator of this free hockey program for six years, and has more rcently been working with Matt Gray, operator of the McCarthy arena. He hosted an open house in late September so that folks could see the improvements taking place inside the Evans Street facility.

There’s a newly opened snack shop and other upgrades to check out. Gray’s list of current and future work includes replacement of most fixtures for the concession area, upgrading surfaces for a “warmer and inviting space” to serve as a party room, installation of new LED lights throughout the facility, adding new inventory of roller and inline skates for summertime public use, making improvements to the audio/visual system, and expanding the food stand with dedicated seating in a sports bar concept.

Another plus is that this weekend’s participants will be working with Lead Coach Erik Triftshauser and Fred Hamilton – both who have more than 25 years of experience, she said. 

“They will be on the ice with many of the present United high school players,” she said. “Several present and past coaches also show up to participate as they believe in the event and enjoy the time with youngsters and experience their enthusiasm for hockey.”

“I believe strongly in the event and still have four grandchildren playing within the Genesee Amateur Hockey Association organization,” she said. “Up until two years ago, I had six playing hockey. I realize that there are still many sports still active currently, such as football and soccer that many youngsters are still participating in.”

So why would families want to attend this Saturday? Kids will learn how to  skate, to get up after falling, get some basic skills with a hockey stick, shooting pucks into a hockey net, and all with no monetary investment, she said. Although the program is geared for ages 4 to 9, some participants have been up to 12 years old.

“We look forward to welcoming families to David M. McCarthy Memorial Ice Arena to try our great sport of ice hockey,” she said. “Our goal is for these families to enjoy watching their kids learn new skills with big smiles on their faces.” 

Interested? You can pre-register at TryHockeyForFree.com. Use the 14020 zip code when registering. Walk-ins are also welcome to join, she said. If parents have questions, contact Valyear-Gray at [email protected] or call 585-344-2248. 

File photo from the 2016 Try Hockey For Free program, by Howard Owens.


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