By Bob Kowalski
The easiest way to learn a complicated sport might be the Adult Rookies hockey class at the Mansfield Children’s Health StarCenter.
The four-week session is free to join, and all equipment besides sticks is provided. Coaches provide basic instruction, starting right at the beginning, with standing and stopping on skates.
The StarCenter has offered a Rookies introductory program for children since its opening in 2018, and added the Adult Rookie program in October of 2019, until the program was stalled during the pandemic.
When classes resumed, the first two sessions were filled within 24 hours, said Bryan Lee, general manager of Mansfield’s StarCenter.
“It’s gotten a lot of traction,” said Lee. “It’s been expanded across all of the StarCenters after being piloted in Mansfield.”
In a recent class, the more than 40 participants ranged in age from their 20s to their 50s, with skill levels as diverse. Participants’ reason for joining the class are nearly as extensive.
“I’m spending time up here with my kids,” said Tom Raw of Mansfield, whose children have participated in hockey at the StarCenter since it opened. “My kids pushed me into it,” he said with a grin.
David Onyon of Waxahachie found out about the program through the StarCenter website.
“I play inline hockey, but I always wanted to play ice hockey,” said Onyon, who also said the sport helps connect him with his daughter, who participated in a pre-hockey program at the StarCenter.
The first session is dedicated solely to fitting of equipment, no on-ice time at all. That whets the appetite for hockey, or at least skating.
In Week 2, it’s time to hit the ice. It’s fatigue-inducing, exhausting, tiring, and that’s just getting into the gear: shin guards, padded pants, chest protectors elbow pads, gloves, helmet and skates.
The first session opens with stick-and-puck, with the skaters circling the arena, moving a puck along to get a feel for the ice and handling a stick. Nets are open to practice shooting, and obstacles are scattered around the ice for those that want to practice stickhandling.
The class is then broken into four groups, where coaches teach basics such as skating, stopping and passing. Those drills continue in the next session, leading up to the final class, which involves a scrimmage game. Coaches skate along with each team to keep the action moving – and evenly matched.
Players are cautioned to keep their on-ice shifts short, preserving their energy for the entire game. After skating and competing for a few minutes, players wave to their teammates on the bench for relief, and the game flows with on-the-go substitutions.
Fitness is a big part of the program, especially for Onyon, who plans to pursue the game further.
“For exercise; I can’t work out – I get bored,” he said.
Players can continue into the next step in the program – the Adult Hockey Academy. Rookie session participants can buy their gear for $275, and that purchase includes a half-price entry into the Adult Hockey Academy, which runs for four weeks and costs $99.
The StarCenter’s Lee said about 60 percent of the rookies continue into the next round of classes. As they learn more skills, they can progress into a half-ice 3-on-3 recreational league or participate in drop-in hockey or stick-and-puck sessions during the week.
“The goal is to get everybody into hockey,” said Lee.
The best part, said Raw, is the fun.
“Just watching my kids, or any kid, having fun,” he said. “Look out there, every kid has got a smile.”
For information on upcoming programs, visit https://www.nhl.com/stars/starcenters/mansfield.
Mansfield, Texas, is a booming city, nestled between Fort Worth and Dallas, but with a personality all its own. The city’s 76,247 citizens enjoy an award-winning school district, vibrant economy, historic downtown, prize-winning park system and community focus spread across 37 square miles. The Mansfield Record is dedicated to reporting city and school news, community happenings, police and fire news, business, food and restaurants, parks and recreation, library, historical archives and special events. The city’s only online newspaper launched in September 2020 and will offer introductory advertising rates for the first three months at three different rates.