|By Shelley Unocic and Randy Schultz —|
Lockport Lock Monsters are thrilled to welcome the NHL Learn to Play Hockey program at Cornerstone CFCU Arena in conjunction with the Buffalo Sabres and USA Hockey. The first 8-week program commenced on a Monday evening back in January with 35 new hockey players taking the ice.
The eager youngsters were greeted by former Sabres player, Pat Kaleta; and Buffalo Beauts Emily Janiga and Maddie Elia. The three partnered with Lock Monster youth coaches to set up a series of five drill stations to rotate the skaters through for an hour.
“It’s fun to be one of the first people to introduce these kids to the game of hockey,” stated Kaleta, a native of Angola, NY who still resides in the Western New York area. “This place here in Lockport is amazing.
“The staff we have here in Lockport has been tremendous. It’s great to have a ‘Learn to Play’ out here and I think it’s a partnership that will be around for a long time”
Janiga, who was born and raised in East Aurora, NY, has enjoyed the program.
“It’s very cool to be a part of a program like this,” remarked Janiga. “I remember my first coach and instructor when I first went out on the ice.
“I fell in love with the game because of them. I’m glad I can be a part of the same thing for these young athletes.”
Elia, a Niagara County resident born and raised in Lewiston, NY, likes the opportunity to be a part of kids just beginning to play hockey.
“It’s awesome doing a program like this,” commented Elia. “It’s helping the kids, it’s helping grow the game.
“When I first went out there it reminded me when I first learned how to skate with a rink out in my backyard.”
The first program sold out in the first few weeks of open registration. Due to demand, the arena opened a second session starting mid-March, which also sold out.
“This is an incredible opportunity for boys and girls have an interest in playing hockey. The low-cost ($150) registration fee for eight weeks of top-notch instruction, plus the free equipment fitted to each skater, is a great beginning for every young player getting into the sport.” said Shelley Unocic, Executive Director of Lockport Ice Arena. “We hope to retain majority of the participants in our in-house programs and develop their skills. This is the fundamental building block for growing the game for years to come in Lockport.”
All Sabres Learn to Play participants were outfitted at Pure Hockey, the official hockey retail partner of the Sabres and Harborcenter. Equipment kits included a helmet, stick, equipment bag, jersey, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, pants, shin pads, socks and skates. Participants were required to have basic skating skills, but no prior structured hockey instruction.
Introduced in 2016, Learn to Play enhances the way youth hockey is offered by providing first-time participants from ages four to nine with free head-to-toe equipment, age-appropriate instruction and certified coaching led by NHL alumni in a fun and safe atmosphere. The program was expanded to include a total of 12 local rinks this season with lessons taught by Sabres alumni and USA Hockey certified instructors. Developed with the help of experts from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, the NHL/NHLPA Learn to Play initiative aims to be the gold standard for youth hockey programs with the goal of inspiring more families to join the hockey community.
For more information regarding figure skating, house and travel hockey teams and other public programming visit www.cornerstoneicearena.com.
Photo Credit: Randy Schultz