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Youngsters try hockey for free at Cheel Arena

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POTSDAM — Youngsters brought their sticks, pads and skates to Clarkson University’s Cheel Arena on Sunday to practice their hockey skills for free. For some, it was their first time on the ice.

The event is part of USA Hockey Inc.’s Try Hockey for Free Day, a nationwide event hosted by local programs so kids ages 4 to 9 can try the sport.

Most leagues hold their free hockey day in February, but the Potsdam Junior Hockey Association pushed theirs up by a few weeks. On Saturday, kids played at Pine Street Arena.

About 30 kids attended Sunday’s event. Some already were veterans, having played hockey for several years. Some wobbled unsteadily, still figuring out how to skate. One wore a bicycle helmet instead of hockey equipment.

Parents took the opportunity to see if their children liked the sport before signing them up and paying for expensive equipment.

“Let’s try it for free and see if she likes it before we sign her up for it. All her cousins play it,” said Rhonda A. Rodriguez, Potsdam. Daughter Carina S. Cook, 5, has practiced figure skating, but stumbled several times while learning to handle hockey skates and a stick. Every time, she picked herself up with a smile.

“This is to encourage kids in the community to try hockey,” said Karen H. Healey, coach of the Potsdam Junior Hockey Association. “We’re introducing them to a few of the very basic techniques we teach our beginners.”

On Sunday, the coaches used games to teach skating and basic puck-handling techniques. Children with more experience could focus on more advanced topics, while those new to hockey worked on their skating.

Austin J. Emlaw, 4, Potsdam, had skated before, but Sunday was his first time playing hockey.

“He loves to skate, but he’s a little bit intimidated by everyone skating faster than him,” said his mother, Jessica L. Emlaw.

“He’s chasing the puck now; that’s good,” Mrs. Emlaw said. “Yesterday, he spent a lot of time in the goal, and goalie equipment is really expensive,” she joked.

Playing hockey teaches young children team-building skills and provides them with exercise during the long winter months, Ms. Healey said.

The more experienced players said they enjoy practicing and learning new skills, but they especially look forward to playing an actual game.

“My brother played hockey. I like doing real games,” said 5-year-old Erik R. Heintzelman, Potsdam, who has been playing hockey for a while.

Although Try Hockey for Free Day is over, the Potsdam Junior Hockey Association’s regular beginner hockey sessions will continue until March.

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