In the middle of a hockey drill and inspired by the background music, a 6-year-old skater suddenly decided to teach Daryl Evans, a Los Angeles Kings legend within the city’s hocky community, the Macarena.
“There’s no doubt that the kids love to have fun on the ice,” said Evans, the longtime Los Angeles Kings radio host and former Kings player. “We put some music on the ice. The kids, really, they just love that. And that’s where the Macarena came up.”
The occasion was the inaugural “We Are All Kings Camp” Aug. 2-6 at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. The camp, focused on diversity and inclusion, was designed to welcome new families to the game, and featured on- and off-ice sessions.
“It was a free, weeklong camp,” said Courtney Ports, Kings director of community and hockey development. “For us as an organization, it was important to really make an effort to diversify the game of hockey, not only for the Kings, but as a whole.”
Evans, Derek Armstrong, another former King, and Blake Bolden, a two-time IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship gold medalist and the first Black American to play in the National Women’s Hockey League, offered on-ice instruction to the 35 youngsters, including 20 boys and 15 girls, who attended the camp.
“A lot of them have never played hockey before,” said Bolden. “We are out on the ice to give them a good time, have a lot of fun, and work on them learning their edges, all the while loving the game of ice hockey.”
Ports recalled watching as one young player eyed a player card that Kings prospect Akil Thomas had just signed for him.
“I could just see in his face [that he was thinking], ‘You know what? That could be me one day,’” Ports said. “That resonated with me the most, I think, from the entire camp.”
Evans said that the manageable number of participants meant that the children, who represented a wide range of abilities and experiences, received plenty of individual tutelage.
“Our ratio for coaches to kids was great,” Evans said. “Putting them out there day after day, I think you could definitely see the improvement come, their eagerness to get back on the ice and kind of put together and implement the things that they’ve learned from the previous day or earlier in that one lesson.
“Every individual is different. That’s what makes it interesting.”
As Evans pointed out, the camp did more than just hone hockey skills.
“Aside from playing the game of hockey, these are life lessons,” Evans said. “You’re teaching kids how to interact with each other, support teammates, be supported by teammates, and in some cases, become leaders out there.
“The life lessons that were learned were immeasurable. Great life lessons that you don’t leave people out. Everything is inclusive. You’re including everybody.”
Evans said he was particularly drawn to the children who were shy or stayed off to the side.
“Those are the kids that I want to put focus on,” Evans said. “Hopefully, by the end of the week, you can get that kid involved because it’s going to pay dividends in everything that they do in life, and it just boosts their confidence so greatly.”
The Kings even provided gear to campers who needed it.
“We dressed them head to toe in equipment,” Ports said. “And that equipment was theirs to keep.”
Bolden, also the Kings growth and inclusion specialist, said watching the young kids brought her back to when she was learning the game. It reminded her of her own early struggles.
“I could not stop on my left side for the first two, three years I learned to skate,” Bolden remembered. “So, I see these kids falling down on the ice, getting back up. They have big, wide eyes and matching smiles on their faces. They have a blast with the different stations while working on their skills. It is just a great time.
“I think there is something about ice hockey — the energy, the magic, how you can glide on the ice. In some cases, I think, the parents are even more excited than the players. They love to see their kids with the big smiles on their faces.”
The hope is that more of those faces will be of color in the future NHL.
“We wanted to jump into the deep end and really prove that this game can be for anybody,” said Ports, “No matter your background, no matter your comfortability with hockey.”
And the Kings also wanted to show that the game can be enjoyable, no matter how skilled a player might be.
“Regardless of what level you’re at … there’s a way to make it a lot of fun,” Evans said.
“We preach at the end of the day, hockey’s all about having fun,” Ports said. “If you’re not having fun, then why are we playing the game?”
Evans was certainly enjoying himself, so he’ll be back again next year.
“We can’t wait to do the next one.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.