Caleb Garrison of Brewer and Peyton Vose of Milford are 7-year-olds who were interested in playing hockey.
So their parents enrolled them in programs with trained coaches and organized sessions that help hundreds of kids around the state get started each year.
“When [Caleb] started, he could barely skate,” said his father, Lewis Garrison, who started Caleb in the Brewer Youth Hockey program at Penobscot Ice Arena. “Now he’s playing, and it only took eight weeks.”
Josh Vose, Peyton’s dad, felt similarly about the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference’s program at Alfond Arena in Orono.
“[Peyton] started taking baby steps. Now look at him, he’s turning and skating,” said Josh Vose, watching his son on the ice. “It’s amazing.”
Both Learn to Skate programs, along with ones put on by other youth hockey associations, started in October.
That basic course at PVHC, which takes skaters ages 4 to 18, lasted four weeks and then progressed to two six-week sessions combining Learn to Skate and Learn to Play.
The second session started Tuesday. The PVHC sessions are held twice a week, once during the week and the other on the weekend. Participants can go to either one, depending on what works best, or they can go to both at no extra charge if they want the extra instruction.
Brewer’s program, for ages 3-15, is a direct 16-week program with the first four weeks dedicated to Learn to Skate, with Learn to Play instruction added for six weeks before Christmas and then six weeks after New Year’s Day. Brewer’s final six weeks began Sunday.
The newest participants at Brewer start in the walkers group, which is held on the middle third of the ice, said George Bishop, Brewer Youth Hockey’s vice president of instruction. Learn to Skate is at one end, and Learn to Play is on the other end.
“We have  registered kids,” said Bishop. “And we keep adding more every week. That’s a good sign.”
Those numbers compare favorably with past years.
“Last year, we had 99,” said Bishop. “In a down economy, that’s not bad for hockey. It’s an expensive sport.”
Bishop’s note about adding kids is another key feature which PVHC also offers.
Kids don’t have to have started at the beginning of instruction in October. They can join anytime, then they are constantly evaluated as their skills improve. When they get good enough, they are asked if they want to move up.
Those who start now will be included with others who are also starting out and separated from the ones who have stronger skills. Those skaters will have advanced to Learn to Play, and now some of them will soon be playing cross-ice games.
Caleb Garrison was the one who brought up the subject of playing hockey.
“He decided on his own he wanted to do hockey,” said Lewis Garrison. “Other friends were going to play.”
Caleb, who also plays football and baseball, has taken the next step in hockey.
“He started Learn to Play today,” said his father. “There are more games to play down there.”
Caleb wasn’t sure what position he wanted to play at first, but he was definite about where he didn’t want to play.
“Not goalie,” he said assuredly. “I’m not a very good blocker of the puck.”
Between playing forward or defense, Caleb decided on a preference.
“Forwards,” he said.
Peyton Vose had company when he started Learn to Skate, his brothers Preston, 5, and Brooks, 4, but Peyton is the only one in the last six-week session.
“I had three in Learn to Skate, then two in the first [Learn to Play] session and one in the second [LTP] session,” said Josh Vose. “The other decided to play basketball.”
That’s not unusual, said Shane McCannell, president of PVHC this year.
“I had a son that did that, and the next year he was back in hockey,” said McCannell. “You never know.”
Peyton struggled early.
“[I had a] hard time skating and a hard time stopping,” he said.
It took him about a week to get comfortable, he said.
And the most important skill he learned?
“Stopping,” he said.
Josh Vose just wants his sons to try things.
“The way I see it,” said Vose, “it’s an investment in his future. If he goes places, fine. If he has fun, that’s all I care about.”
“We want the kids to have a good experience, the parents, too,” said McCannell, who has four children.
“One in Peewees/Squirts [ages 9-12], one in Mites [6-8], one in Learn to Play and one that’s not old enough,” he said with a smile.
There are 66 skaters registered for PVHC’s program. That bodes well for PVHC’s other age groups.
“We have 52 at the Mite level. Next year, we’re looking at 70,” McCannell said.
Josh Vose is amazed how good the kids are.
“I didn’t expect this much progress,” he said. “It blows my mind how far they’ve come.”