For Janine Martinez and her family, hockey has become more than a sport; it’s a way of life. Martinez, her husband Gus and three daughters have all played, coached and officiated at rinks around their community of Livonia, Michigan, a suburb west of Detroit.
Janine was on track to play college basketball at Michigan State before a torn ACL ended those hopes. Her father suggested she play for a women’s hockey team in the area. Thus began a love affair with the game that has created a strong bond within her family.
“I joined the women’s team, met my husband, and he started coming to games,” recalled Janine, an advance quality engineer. “He learned how to skate, ended up being our coach. He took us to quite a few Nationals, then started coaching our eldest daughter when she came around.”
Kayla, 21, began playing when she was 4 and is currently a senior defenseman for Lindenwood University. She finished second on the team in blocked shots and tied for third in shots on net last season. Corrin, 19, started playing when she was 10. Kirsten, 16, took up the game at age seven.
Corrin and Kirsten both benefited from Try Hockey for Free events. Even though girls hockey hadn’t become widespread in the area at that time, they were fortunate to play on a house league girls team.
“Coming to watch my games and their sisters’ games, I think they wanted to be involved in hockey, just getting out there on the ice and seeing what it was all about to actually put a stick in their hand,” Janine said.
Antoine Bergeron has seen many families like Janine’s find that same passion during his five years as the youth hockey director for the Palmyra Black Knights near Hershey, Pennsylvania. Bergeron, who previously served in the same capacity with the Lancaster Firebirds, has organized numerous Try Hockey for Free events. The keys to getting kids and entire families hooked, he says, is utilizing the use of a program’s volunteers. He also believes pairing current players with young beginners makes a big difference.
“The experience is way better,” said Bergeron, who currently has 400 players in his program that includes sled hockey. “My best events have always been when I can match each player one by one with a current player and spend the whole hour on the ice with them.”
When parents pass along their love for a sport like hockey to their children, it can be contagious, especially when they feel welcome at the rink.
“They feel it from the moment they walk in,” Bergeron said. “When they come back for their second session after the event, if they like it, the passion is still there. The parents will feel it, the kids will fall in love with it, and they’ll want to continue their journey with learning how to skate and play.”
That has certainly been the case for the Martinez family. Besides playing, Janine also referees games at all age levels. Corrin no longer plays, but serves as a referee and helps her mom coach the area high school team.
As much as she still enjoys playing, Janine loves the challenge of being a referee, especially for younger girls leagues. Her favorite officials to work with are her own daughters.
“I just think it’s so cool I can go grab my daughter and we ref a bunch of games,” she said. “It’s just another relationship I’ve created with my daughters.”
There are a number of advantages for whole families becoming involved in the same activity. Everyone can feel a part of the experience, and it’s easier to spend time together. Depending on age and the resources of the program, siblings can practice at the same time at one location.
“Hockey is for everybody,” Bergeron said. “To me, there’s no barrier. Everybody that tries it usually falls in love with it.”
For Janine, the sport has taken her to places she’s never been. Best of all, it’s brought the family closer.
“We all speak the same language,” she explained. “We all understand when we talk about hockey or I talk about a ref situation or observation that I came across. They all can relate and understand what I’m talking about.”
With each Try Hockey for Free event comes the beginning of a common thread among families that continues to grow with each generation.
“I currently have a co-worker that I used to coach when they were younger,” Bergeron said. “I have guys I first started coaching that are now coaching at different clubs in the area, and they have younger kids. The wheel is already starting, it’s getting better. Each kid is getting even more now because there’s a real experienced and professional staff helping them along the way.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.