Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hockey Life: The big ice

Over the past few years, Colin has been fortunate enough to attend quite a few hockey clinics sponsored by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Called Lightning Made Clinics, these hour-long events, held four times a season, are much more than participating in a series of drills.

What makes them special, from Colin's perspective, is they present an opportunity to skate and play on a sheet of NHL ice. While thousands can watch from their seats as NHL players toil, few ever get the chance to set a narrow steel blade upon the ice and experience the game from that level.

Granted, this past Wednesday wasn't the first time Colin has skated at the Forum. He had his time at center ice before a Boston Bruins-Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this season. While that has been the highlight, to date, he's skated there nearly 10 times over the past few years. Each time, it's always a thrill.

To skate on the ice where a Game 7 decided who won the Stanley Cup is, by far, like taking a step back into hockey history. To know that Lightning stars Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis ply their trade there is pretty heady. And to look around the Forum and think about thousands of cheering fans is the stuff that only fuels dreams.

The purpose of these clinics, though, is to focus on the tools needed to make these dreams come true.

This past Wednesday, however, was a bit different. Up until then, the Lightning Made Clinics over the past two seasons followed a uniform format -- skating, passing drills, some one-on-one drills and, time permitting, a scrimmage to close out the evening. This recent clinic, however, followed USA Hockey's American Development Model.

In these clinics, the ice is separated into stations, so to speak, where kids work on different skills. Instead of pucks, kids pass tennis balls. Blue foam circles and soccer balls are used, too. A stick's handle, rather than the blade, is used to pass and shoot. Rather than simply being another practice, this approach appeared to be much more fun.

I like to tell people, by borrowing a line from Hillary Rodham Clinton, that it'll take a village to raise our hockey player. No one coach or player determines Colin's future. Instead, it's every hockey person we meet, from NHL players during hounding to coaches at clinics, who offers something useful.

These clinics, thankfully, are important wayposts along Colin's hockey journey.

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