Every Monday night during the winter months, the Carolina Hurricanes’ training facility at the Raleigh Ice Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a popular place.
Wake County Boys & Girls Club participants who take part in the Capital City Crew program are on the ice receiving instruction. The kids, who are mostly brand new to hockey, sometimes earn a special treat. Hurricanes players Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury were at practice in early February teaching the sport to the young skaters.
That’s just one of many perks for the inner-city youth who are given the chance to play hockey for the Capital City Crew.
“What we’re trying to do is create a program that provides an opportunity to young men and young women at the Boys Club and Girls Club who normally wouldn’t have the exposure to the great game,” said Capital City Crew Hockey Operations Manager Greg Meluch.
From the Capital City Crew’s inception nine years ago, the program has had a partnership with the Hurricanes, Raleigh Youth Hockey Association and the Wake County Boys & Girls Club. All the kids who play for the program attend the local Boys & Girls Club.
“It’s a great partnership, because they bring something to the table that we desperately need and that we build the foundation around,” said Capital City Crew founder and director John Scott. “I attend their staff meetings a couple of times a year to provide feedback and to take their feedback on how the program’s growing, how we can change it, how we can make it better. It takes a huge weight off our shoulders, because we don’t have to recruit kids.”
Each year prior to the season, Scott determines how many kids the program can service within the budget. Scott will specify how he wants the youth players segmented by gender, how many returning players he’d like back and he’ll request a good balance of younger and older kids.
Capital City Crew’s target age is players ages 8 to 14 years old. However, Scott isn’t going to stop any younger kids who are antsy to try out the sport. Once the kids graduate from the program at 14, some are able to move into a house league or travel team.
This year, the program consists of 85 kids who practice at two rinks. Along with the 40 players who are at the Raleigh Ice Center on Mondays, 45 players lace up their skates at The Factory in Wake Forest on Thursdays.
The kids receive one hour of on-ice training per week followed by a 15- to 20-minute life skills session. It’s a nice mix of learning on and off the ice.
“We wanted to do more than just teach kids how to play the game,” said Capital City Crew Life Skills Manager Michael Kanters. “We wanted to use it as a platform to help young people also develop as people.”
On the ice, the players got through a 12- to 15-week instructional program using skills progressions offered by USA Hockey.
“The progress that they make over the 12- to 15-week program is just amazing,” said Meluch, who is a USA Hockey Level 4-certified coach. “It’s due to the fact that it’s something new for them. I can tell you 95 percent of the young men and young women in our program have never had exposure to ice hockey ever before. The majority have never skated on ice.”
The first six weeks of the course focuses on forward and backward skating, transitions, stickhandling, passing, shooting and balance. The kids are divided into six stations to work on the different skills.
“When they have their individual skills built, then we work on team skills,” Meluch said.
In the last half of the course, the players are divided by age and skill level into teams to play cross-ice 3-on-3, 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 games.
There are anywhere from 12-15 coaches who work each session, so there’s an impressive 3-to-1 player-to-coach ratio.
After the kids’ on-ice session concludes, there’s a brief break for a breather and a life skills component is introduced. Offering more than just hockey in the Capital City Crew program has been something that’s very important to Scott since Day 1.
“It was kind of like the main ingredient that I wasn’t going to do [the program] without it,” Scott said.
Kanters designed a curriculum that teaches a series of skills. There’s always a lesson of the week that hits on an important subject such as setting goals, appreciating differences or leading a healthier lifestyle. The instructors are taught not to present the information to the kids like they are in school because they get enough of that during the day.
“It’s a very light lesson,” Kanters said. “It’s activity-based and you’re trying to connect it with other life domains. You don’t want to come in hard and heavy on life lessons, otherwise they’re going to tune you out. We try to incorporate it with a little bit of snack time if they’re coming off the ice — water and healthy snacks.”
Scott has received plenty of positive feedback that the Capital City Crew is making a difference in the lives of the kids, and in turn, the kids are making a difference in their community.
“The parents and the people at the Boys & Girls Club say, ‘Hey, we’ve noticed a change in behavior with time management skills, in areas of their school work, in areas of being confident,’” Scott said. “Some of these kids come to us and they’re shy about everything, and now we give them a sense of belonging. They’re on a team, they’re in a family; it’s something they look forward to.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc
Their skates may move a little slower than they did nearly 42 years ago in Sapporo, Japan, and there’s probably more silver and white in their hair, but talk to any member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team, and they instantly go back to that time like it happened just yesterday.
“I can still hear the crunch of the snow from our early morning runs around the Olympic Village and playing in those games,” said former defenseman Tom Mellor, a Rhode Island native. “What an experience it all was – just a bunch of amateur hockey players going out to take on the world one game at a time.”
An improbable run to the silver medal started with an upset of Czechoslovakia that some compared to the U.S.’s wins over the Soviet Union in the 1960 and 1980 Olympic Games. Team member and Minnesota native Craig Sarner credits the intense team bond to helping lift Team USA to its success that year.
U.S. Head Coach Murray Williamson demanded that the team stick together right away, beginning with practices and tryouts that began months prior to the Olympic Games. Sarner and Mellor both note that, “everyone had one another’s backs” and “it became one of our biggest and most important families.”
And it’s a family that hasn’t drifted, even though states and careers now separate them. The team chemistry still carries on today with the majority of the players that donned the Red, White and Blue all those years ago.
“The medal was important,” said Sarner. “But the friendships we developed and the lifelong bond we have is the biggest part of it all. We just enjoy the heck out of being together, and it was that chemistry that helped us prove that will does beat skill sometimes.”
After the Olympic Games, most of the team, which included the likes of a then 16-year-old Mark Howe, Henry Boucha and Mike “Lefty” Curran, went on to some sort of professional hockey career, still staying in touch every year via email and phone calls and trips all across the U.S. Sarner, Mellor and the rest of the squad get together frequently. Their last trip was to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the summer of 2012. Mellor said the team already has plans to meet up again this year, a reunion that everyone looks forward to.
The conversation is not always focused solely on hockey. Sarner is still involved as a scout for the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League. Mellor hung up the skates and moved on to “life after hockey.”
They also update the hockey family on each player’s personal family.
“I’m a new grandpa with a granddaughter, Eve, so I am boring the guys with photos and information about her constantly,” said Sarner, whose silver-plated medal hangs in Eve’s room. “So I know they’re tiring of it, but we all update on family life and just everything that’s going on with one another. Never a lack of stories, some true, some fabricated, when this group gets together.”
Stories will be shared by the 1972 alums and their extended USA Hockey family for years to come.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with and meet than that team,” said Mellor. “Them and really everyone involved in the USA Hockey organization, from the 1980 team, and beyond, it’s neat to be a part of something like that – to be a part of that family.”
While there have been plenty of United States Olympians who’ve embodied the “Got Milk?”-like wholesome symbolism of success over the years, A.J. (Mleczko) Griswold, gold medalist in 1998 and silver medalist in 2002, may top them all. The Nantucket, Mass., native’s credentials border on unassailable.
In 1999 alone, she won a national championship with the Harvard University women’s hockey team, she was selected First Team All-America, she earned the second-ever Patty Kazmaier Award and she claimed Bob Allen Women's Player of the Year honors. She is also a member of two halls of fame: The New England Women's Sports Hall of Fame (2002) and the Women's Beanpot Hall of Fame (2011).
One could convincingly argue that the self-actualization box has been checked.
USA Hockey caught up with Griswold at her Concord, Mass., home recently, where she had just returned from her third Olympics as a hockey broadcaster for NBC Sports. Reflecting on her transition to the media, she said, “It was very different. I had played in two Olympics, retired and started a family. Like anyone entering the field, I had to audition, which was scary, and then take on a steep learning curve. I was seven months pregnant when I first went on the air for the network in Torino.”
As for the contrast between playing a game and communicating a game’s happenings to viewers, Griswold said, “Initially, it was hard to watch and not be involved. It was a new challenge though, to look at hockey in an analytical way, and entirely different to watch a game and form opinions. Furthermore, you have to be impartial. In spite of playing with many of the (Team USA) women on the ice, I noticed it was not as hard to be unbiased.”
She also added, perhaps surprisingly, that “you have more free time as an athlete.” As a broadcaster (at any Olympics), Griswold regularly preps for, and calls, two to three games a day.
When it came to the alleged, Twitter-fueled mishaps in Sochi, Griswold was quick to debunk them.
“I didn’t have the experience (as an employee of NBC Sports) of a typical attendee, but I can tell you my hotel was great and the weather was great. While the four previous host sites spread the Olympics around the respective cities, there was an Olympic Park with beautiful, state-of-the art facilities in Sochi. I ate my meals at the NBC Commissary, where American food was served.”
The byproduct of such a layout, however, was that “I didn’t feel like I was in Russia.”
When asked how she stays close to the game and USA Hockey, the mother of four with husband, Jason, was excited to mention that she is an athlete director with USA Hockey and also a board member with the USA Hockey Foundation.
It’s in coaching though, often times with Jason, a hockey player himself and a lacrosse player in college at Colgate University, that she feels is the best way to stay involved and keep learning.
“Coaching kids, including our own, is the best way to give back, to share your expertise,” she said. “It’s at the grassroots level where you make a real difference.”
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