The 5-year-old was slipping and sliding so much, he could hardly keep his feet on the ice.
“It’s too slippery,” A.J. said.
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It’s an annual activity through USA Hockey, and the first of two times this hockey season it will make its way to Pegula Ice Arena, said Ryan Patrick, hockey director at the rink.
Try Hockey For Free Day was started about four years ago as part of Come Play Hockey Month, according to USA Hockey.
“When we heard of it, we jumped on board,” Patrick said. “We want to help spread awareness of the sport and get as many kids out as possible.”
About 30 kids were preregistered, while a handful of others registered at the door. The first 40 kids received a free USA Hockey jersey.
Patrick said the NHL provided USA Hockey with a grant to help purchase about 35 sets of equipment to distribute to participants.
About 500 hockey associations across the country participated in the event, according to USA Hockey.
“Some of these kids never played before,” Patrick said. “They see it on TV or watch some of the guys play, but then come out and get to experience that for themselves, and try on the gloves and the pads and get a feel for it.”
Penn State forward Casey Bailey, a junior, said that in his three years with the team, he’s seen hockey grow in the area.
“We lace up every day and go out and do what we need to do on the ice, but then you have a chance to give back, even when that means contributing to the sport in the community,” Bailey said. “We were all in this position checking it out for the first time and now we have the chance to be the guys to help support the younger kids and see the growth of the sport. It’s a special feeling when you walk downtown and see people wearing their (Penn State) hockey sweats and hats.”
Growth of the sport in central Pennsylvania is part of Pegula Ice Arena and the men’s hockey team’s mission, Patrick said.
“We live in an area that presents itself for hockey,” Patrick said. “We finally have a team where people can uniformly come together and support. Part of that mission is to also give back and educate the public about hockey when we can.”
For goaltender P.J. Musico, the game has come full circle.
The senior started playing hockey in his native Southern California when Wayne Gretzky was playing for the Los Angeles Kings.
“Everyone knew who he was and it sparked people from the area to want to play,” Musico said. “Today kind of brings back a lot of those old memories, and being a kid like this and learning from others.”
His goal was to first teach the beginners to enjoy the sport and have fun.
“Everything else come next,” Musico said. “I’m a big believer in enjoying what you do and hope to instill that enjoyment with the kids.”
But while he was encouraging a love of the game, a safety aspect also came into play.
When 7-year-old Henry Morley threw a high stick at Musico while playing a pickup game, Musico stopped to teach Henry and group of others some of the rules.
“We have to keep our sticks down,” Musico told him. “Those are the rules — else we get penalties and can hurt someone.”
The next “Try Hockey For Free Day” clinic will be Feb. 21 at Pegula Ice Arena.