When Matt and Cindy Milanese brought their son, Jaxson, to the Monument Ice Rinks in Monument, Colo., for Try Hockey for Free Day, they didn’t know how it was going to go.
This wasn’t Jaxson’s first time giving the game a try. Despite expressing interest in the past, the 4-year-old hasn’t always been ready to participate once it was time to hit the ice.
But despite the past trials and tribulations, his parents were willing to give it another shot.
Jaxson was one of a record 13,500 participants during the Nov. 12 event that provides those all of ages the opportunity to take a free spin around the rink. At 493 rinks in 47 different states, players were provided with equipment and tutorials from local coaches.
This is the sixth time the NHL and USA Hockey have teamed up for the biannual event that has introduced an estimated 130,000 players to the sport.
Players and their parents are greeted in the rink lobby by a small army of volunteers who walk them through every step of the process, starting with the often challenging task of putting on the free loaner equipment.
From there, they are shuffled onto the ice and taught a number of basic skills. For those making their first foray onto the ice that might mean learning how to hold the stick and staying upright, to shooting and puck-handling for the more advanced and adventurous.
For those who organize these events, such as Monument Ice Rinks facility manager Al Pedersen, thinking fast is key.
“You have to get to know the kids quickly,” Pedersen said. “Some are daredevils, while others are pretty cautious. So, it’s important to find the right coach for each kid.”
At the event in Monument, Jaxson was put among the youngsters working on skating. While he had done this before, something was different this time. The apprehension of earlier experiences was gone, and Jaxson was quickly gliding around on the ice, sporting a big smile on his face.
With a stick firmly in his grasp was hitting any object near him, whether it was a soccer ball, hockey puck or even a rubber chicken. With each stride and each slap of the stick, Jaxson’s parents smiled and waved at their son, making sure to capture the moment in photos.
Coming into the event, they had nothing but positive things to say about their experience with Try Hockey For Free Day and the staff in Monument.
“They (the volunteers) are phenomenal,” Jaxson’ mother, Cindy, said. “They have been patient with Jaxson each time we’ve come out. It’s also been a great benefit for us financially.”
After Jaxson’s time on the ice was complete, there was a sense of relief and elation that the day had gone so well. After a number of previous tries, the Milanese family got to finally experience the joy hockey can bring.