Tuesday, November 17, 2009


The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle ran this great story in today's paper...

Youth hockey players learn from veterans
John Boccacino

BROCKPORT — Veterans Day is a time to reflect and to pay tribute to the sacrifices soldiers have made in the name of preserving freedom and the American way.

But for 16 of the younger members of the Tri-County Youth Hockey Golden Eagles, Veterans Day, like all school holidays, presented an opportunity to lace up their skates, grab a stick and learn about the game's fundamentals from college players who know what it's like to be young and searching for advice.

Flying around the Tuttle North Ice Arena's rink, these players learned about crossovers, stick-handling and accurate shooting from State University College at Brockport men's hockey coach Brian Dickinson and 12 of his players.

Playing on Tri-County's home ice, the youngsters, ranging from initiation level (ages 5-6), mites (ages 8 and younger) and squirts (younger than 10) took advantage of the opportunity, peppering the players with questions, picking up valuable pointers and, of course, having some fun.

The 90-minute clinic was the perfect way for Jack Skakuj, a member of Tri-County's Squirt 'A' team, to spend his school holiday. Normally a winger for Tri-County, Jack enjoyed working with the Golden Eagles and loved the thrill of stealing the puck away from the college players.

"They taught me some good dekes to score on goal, how to stick-handle better and pass better," said Jack, 8, of Hamlin, a third-grader at the Barclay Elementary School in Brockport.

"It felt great if any of us were able to steal the puck from the college guys. I thought they'd all be really fast and good with the puck, and they were, but I was able to poke it free a couple of times."

One of the most popular drills was a stick-handling exercise in which each player had to carefully maneuver their way through a series of cones while maintaining control of the puck.

The Tri-County players also learned about consistently making more accurate passes and putting just the right amount of zip on their passes. Properly receiving a pass was also stressed, as the Brockport players instructed the children to bring their sticks back and then gently forward to corral the puck.

Going head-to-head with the Golden Eagles was such a thrill for Hamlin's Matt Heyden, who is a fan of watching the Brockport team's games whenever possible.

"It was unreal and really cool playing with the Brockport guys, and I'll always remember the passing drills and tips," said Matt, 9, a third-grader at Barclay who plays left wing and defense for the Squirt 'A's'.

"They taught us a lot of the moves that they will use in their games. I'd love to play college hockey one day and this will make me a better, faster, stronger hockey player."

The partnership began last January, when a Tri-County parent called Dickinson and inquired about some holiday hockey lessons. Dickinson, in his 14th season coaching the Golden Eagles, agreed to help out and devised a lesson plan that emphasized 1-on-1 skill development and, most importantly, proper skating technique.

"These kids idolize our players and can't wait to come out, talk with them and work on their skills," Dickinson said. "But the college kids are having just as much fun and they're giving these youths something to shoot for, which is just as important as developing their hockey skills."

For much of the clinic, Carson Gapes was between the pipes, staving off the group's best shots. He used the practice to work with Todd Sheridan, Brockport's starting net minder, on making better reads on shots, improving his shuffles and perfecting the butterfly position.

"My favorite part was when all the kids and college players came in and shot on me. I was able to make some big saves, and that was really exciting," said Carson, 9, of Medina and a fourth-grader at Medina's Oak Orchard Elementary School.

"We were (in awe) of the college kids, definitely, because they've accomplished so much in the sport and we all have so much to learn from them."

As he headed into the locker room, Jack, already looking ahead to the three-day winter break "holiday fun camp" running Dec. 28-30, perfectly summed up how he spent his Veterans Day.

"This was a lot of fun, better than being in school!" Jack said with a big smile.

Go to the D&C's website for more information about the series and to see a 10-photo album from the event. Here's the link: