My eldest son, Zane, has participated in youth hockey since the age of 4. He’s 9 now and in those five years of skating and playing and having a great time as a Junior Black Bear not once have we had to get up at three in the morning to get to a practice.
One of the most predominant myths that I try to dispel in talking to other parents about youth hockey is the myth of the early morning practice. These conversations usually start near the playground or the soccer field. They see their kids having a great time running around with friends, kicking a ball, playing tag or dragging around large sticks and they wonder what to do for recreation when the cold north winds start to blow.
“Hockey starts soon,” I say, noting that moving quickly among friends while carrying a stick are spot-on hockey skills.
Almost immediately they get a look in their eyes like I’ve just suggested they sign their kid up for Monster Wrestling School. “Oh,” they say, “I’ve heard about those 4 a.m. practices.”
The truth is that for two area programs, the Maine Junior Black Bears and the Brewer Youth Hockey Witches, practices are at regularly scheduled times. They are held in the early evening (5-7) on weekdays and late morning (9-11) on weekends. Games are played on weekends as well, at around the same time as practices.
Admittedly, every now and then a trek will need to be made to Houlton or Augusta for a game that will necessitate a slightly earlier rise. But given a Mainer’s ability to wake up at 2 in the morning to go freeze our butts off in a tree stand for five hours or stand shivering in a field searching for a great horned owl, a 6 a.m. wakeup to drive an hour or so to watch their kids have a blast on the ice while enjoying some coffee and a doughnut in a warm room doesn’t seem that much of a strain.
“But it’s sooooooo expensive!”
Hockey can be expensive (especially when you get your kid a full set of goalie gear), but for the beginning skater it’s incredibly affordable. Our Learn to Skate Program is $30 and requires only skates and a helmet.
For those who choose to move on to Learn to Play, rental gear is available for $25 — good for the whole season.
“I don’t know, my daughter isn’t really into hockey.”
For many parents there is also the perception that hockey is a boys sport and in many ways and for many years that has been the case. But the landscape is changing. Efforts are ongoing to establish a girls varsity cooperative team much like teams formed farther south. These efforts have become necessary due to the boom in participation in our programs by young women. Both the Junior Black Bears and the Brewer Witches have made the development of girls teams at all levels a priority.
I have had the privilege of working with a number of University of Maine hockey players over the years in my capacity as an instructor of college composition and none of the players I’ve met have worked harder or put more effort into both their studies and their sport than the women’s team. With the ongoing commitment of our local and state organizations, led by USA Hockey’s development model, we may hope to see more Maine natives such as alternate captain Katy Massey on the team.
“My child is too old. He’s 9.”
You’re never too old to learn the game. I started when I was 38 (which is what happens when your parents move you to Texas when you’re a kid). A couple of Zane’s classmates are starting with the Learn to Play group this fall with a chance to move up to Squirts later in the season.
A former Black Bear captain, Travis Ramsey, didn’t take up the game until he was 12. Of course, it does help to be little when you start out, mainly because as you’re learning to skate the distance your butt travels to the ice is significantly decreased when you inevitably fall down, but there are programs for all ages and levels.
I decided to write this piece because I wanted to dispel a myth or two about youth hockey and I’m not at every playground in the Greater Bangor area to talk to every parent of every potential participant. But a parent of one of our players is and they will tell you how much fun their child has chasing a little piece of vulcanized rubber around the rink.
They will tell you about the friends they make from towns other than their own. They will tell you how awesome it is to see their kid doing so well at something that looked so difficult a month ago. They’ll tell you about the annual trip to the tournaments in Portland and the special bonds that form when representing their team and organization.
They’ll also tell you, if you ask, that no, there aren’t any practices at 4 a.m. That’s high school, and by then they’ll be able to drive themselves.
Travis Baker is the public relations director for the Maine Junior Black Bears. He is also the author of “One Blue Tarp” and an English instructor at the University of Maine and Husson University. Thanks to Zane he plays a pick-up game every Monday night. For more information on the area youth hockey programs, visit mainejrblackbears.com or brewerhockey.org.