The Wichita Youth Hockey Association (WYHA) is constantly trying to increase the number of players in its program.
What better way to attract interest than for the WYHA to participate twice a year in USA Hockey’s Try Hockey for Free Weekend? The association, which currently has about 160 players, has flourished with each event it hosts at the Wichita Ice Center in Wichita, Kansas.
The last three times the WYHA has held an event, it has averaged 87 players. It reached a rink-record 108 kids in February 2017, and this past March, there were 107 players.
“In our location, it’s something new that a lot of kids like,” said Carlos Galvan, the new hockey director at the Wichita Ice Center. “We have an ECHL team and they have a lot of support there and I think all the kids that go there want to try hockey. They hear about this and they really latch on.”
Galvan, who has helped out at the Wichita Ice Center for the last four Try Hockey for Free weekends before taking over as the hockey director, is expecting another large number of players for their event Saturday, Nov. 10.
As of the afternoon of Nov. 8, Galvan said 82 participants had registered. He’s hoping more kids show up Saturday and sign up to have that number exceed 100 for the third of the WYHA’s last four Try Hockey for Free days.
“From my understanding, we have a lot of kids that will wait until the day of to sign up, so I’m hoping to gain at least another 20 out of that,” Galvan said. “I’m hoping the kids have fun with it and see that this is a sport they might fall in love with.”
The WYHA is targeting players ages 4 to 9, but any kid is welcome up to high-school age.
Kids who attend the event will be dressed from head to toe in gear. That includes getting shoulder pads, shin pads and pants. Players who don’t have their own skates will be able to use a pair from the rink’s skate rental stock.
“We have a good community that has donated a ton of gear,” Galvan said. “We have some of the USA Hockey 2-and-2 gear as well. We’re going to have plenty of gear.”
For Saturday’s event, parents are asked to get their kids to the rink by 2:45 p.m. to receive gear and handouts. The kids will have 30 minutes to get ready before hitting the ice at 3:15 p.m. for 30 minutes of introductory skating. For the final hour of the session, the players will break into groups that will rotate through skill stations. Drills will include passing, stickhandling with cones and obstacles, shooting and an obstacle course.
Between the top-notch coaches and parents, Galvan is expecting close to 50 volunteers helping with on-ice instruction. Some members of the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder will also be on hand to assist the first-time hockey players.
Galvan would like the participants to take a positive experience away from getting on the ice.
“Most importantly, I hope they have fun,” Galvan said. “But I’m really hoping we can grow a passion in all these kids and they’ll want to come out and join the organization and continue the journey.”
In the past USA Hockey Try Hockey for Free events, the WYHA generally gets 10 to 15 percent of those who try the sport to register with the association.
“We’re trying to grow our youth program and I think this is a huge with that — just getting kids introduced, especially the 4- to 9-year-olds,” Galvan said. “In the past, this has done a great job of kind of opening the door for that.”
Hosting the Try Hockey for Free events have proved beneficial for both the WYHA as well as the Wichita Ice Center.
“It’s a great way to get people in,” Galvan said. “A lot of people don’t realize we’re a health club as well, so we have a gym upstairs. We get a lot of people who say they pass by all the time but they’ve never stepped in and didn’t realize all the resources that we have here.”
Anyone interested in attending the event can pre-register here or just show up at the rink that day.
“If they’re interested in trying something new, or just to have a fun day, reach out to us at the rink and we’ll be more than happy to direct them to get signed up,” Galvan said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.