By Gordy Stillman
The New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center partnered with USA Hockey to host “Try Hockey For Free” at AmeriHealth Pavilion on Saturday, November 7. Thirty skaters, ranging from novice children as young as 3-years old, who were skating for the first time, to experienced Hockey in Newark members looking to improve their skills, participated in the day’s activities.
The event in Newark was part of a nationwide effort by USA Hockey to introduce children to the sport in an accessible format and one of 500 events around the country during USA Hockey’s Come Play Hockey Month in November.
Andy Gojdycz, Associate Coach in Chief for the Atlantic District of USA Hockey and Hockey Director at AmeriHealth Pavilion, said the day’s activities, both at AmeriHealth Pavilion and around the country, aimed to grow participation in the sport. Gojdycz explained that the organization hopes to see increased player retention through all levels by creating opportunities for children to experience and get a taste for the sport with minimal barriers to entry.
Gojdycz, with the help of Devils Alumnus and Stanley Cup Champion Bruce Driver, volunteers from the Devils and Prudential Center staff, and Rutgers University coach Martin Bernstein, led skaters through different levels of instruction. Bernstein recently became the coach at Rutgers following Gojdycz’s decision to step down from the role earlier this year. Gojdycz coached Bernstein when he was a student at the school.
Throughout the morning, participants practiced skills at different stations around the ice. Each teacher adjusted the activity’s complexity based on the skill level of the skaters. At one of the stations, Coach Bernstein led skaters in a passing drill. When he was leading more advanced skaters the drill emphasized passing while in motion, and later, as a trio of much younger skaters reached the drill, Bernstein taught the children proper stance and emphasized passing while standing still.
At other stations, skaters worked on footwork, skating and balance, where more advanced participants spent time kicking a soccer ball while on skates. The two largest stations involved cross-ice hockey on one end of the ice and offensive zone/defensive zone skills on the other side of the rink.
Driver, who has coached at many levels of youth hockey since retiring from the NHL, said the day was a great chance for him to focus on the grassroots level of hockey. Currently coaching for Morristown-Beard’s girls’ hockey team, Driver enjoyed the opportunity to “teach the basics from the ground up.” Instead of running a single station, Driver moved around, offering advice and tips at each activity.
The Devils’ mascot, NJ Devil, joined the fun entertaining and amazing the skaters with his skills. At one point, to the surprise of everyone, he even ate a puck, tossing it into the air with his stick and catching it in his mouth.
The Devils, Prudential Center and USA Hockey once again partnered for a great event at AmeriHealth Pavilion as New Jersey’s next generation of hockey players gave the sport a try.