The warm joys of youth hockey, explained

Posted Feb. 12, 2010, at 7:31 p.m.

I enjoyed reading Sarah Smiley’s account of her family’s local youth hockey experience last year, “A mom’s brush with ice hockey” (BDN, Feb. 8). There are a few kids who decide midstream that hockey is not what they thought it would be. But the truth is, in this neck of the woods they are a very small minority, and I’d like to take this opportunity to give you a local hockey mom’s perspective on our sport.

It’s that time of year when our teams are gearing up for tournaments, and some of the parents are looking forward to the late-season skiing we passed up all winter. We’ll greet the end of the season with mixed emotions. It’s nice to lie on the beach around the corner from our kids’ summer hockey camps, but we’ll miss the friends we spent our winter with.

If you get a chance in the coming weeks, stop by Sawyer Arena and take in a game. Bangor Youth Hockey will play host to its annual Friendship Tournaments on weekends between Feb. 13 and March 14, bringing in boys and girls from across the state and New Brunswick ages 5 to 14.

The state competitive B Pee Wee tournament for skaters ages 11 and 12 will be held at Sawyer the weekend of Feb. 19-21. Admission is free for all of it, and you’ll get to see some great and enthusiastic hockey played by local kids having the time of their lives.

While you’re there, take note of the very dedicated group of volunteers who make this opportunity happen for our kids. They keep every member of the team informed of practice and game schedules, and directions to the rinks we visit across the state. They research and register for tournaments, find good hotel deals and nudge everyone to make their reservations early. They organize volunteers to run the time clock and keep the score sheet, and they manage the team Web site.

Our coaches attend full-day training sessions and coaching clinics, submit to background checks and show up several times a week ready to teach, encourage, corral and otherwise manage large groups of children carrying sticks. No small task. And they do it with a sense of humor and a desire to see our kids become adults who understand teamwork and sportsmanship and who can play well enough to keep playing for fun as long as they live where lakes will freeze.

Let me dispel a couple of common myths: 1) Youth hockey is expensive; and 2) We suffer through “crack of dawn” practices and games. The reality is that all three of our local youth hockey organizations offer fundraising opportunities that a devoted fundraiser can use to nearly negate a skater’s annual fee. Families recycle and share equipment, negating more costs. Plus, we benefit from having three rinks in the area, which provide enough ice time for us to avoid those early morning schedules that happen elsewhere.

Not every kid decides he or she is cut out to be a hockey player. Luckily for us, there are great opportunities around here to try your hand at many different sports. But if you have a budding skater in your household, it’s pretty easy to get him or her started. And here’s a tip: It sounds like the Smileys may have a couple of sets of very gently used gear for sale — music to a hockey mom’s ears!

Gayle Middleton is the president of Bangor Youth Hockey.

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