The Arizona Coyotes are bringing street hockey to the gym.
The club announced its inaugural Coyotes Street Hockey League is set to kick off on Saturday, Sept. 17 at Burk Elementary School in Gilbert, and the 10-week program offers 45 minutes of skill building, followed by one hour of game play.
The best part? The league, which is open to everyone between the ages of 7-13, requires no previous hockey experience.
All that’s needed is an interest in the game, and the Coyotes hockey development staff will take care of the rest.
Lyndsey Fry, the Coyotes’ Senior Director of Hockey Development, said there has been such an interest from students whenever the team holds clinics at schools that the club was compelled to create one of the first-ever street hockey leagues for kids in The Valley.
“We felt like there was just this feeling from kids of, ‘I had a great day at P.E. today,’ but then that’s it, and then their connection to hockey kind of fizzles out until they do P.E. the next year,” she said. “We thought creating a league was the natural next step.”
Fry also said she’s optimistic that the league has potential to grow throughout the metro Phoenix area, and the ultimate goal is to expand the league for easier access to all.
It just has to start somewhere.
“This is very new for the Arizona markets to actually start up these leagues,” Fry said. “Eventually we’d like to have a robust ecosystem of street hockey programming — and street hockey leagues — where we could do some sort of big tournament, which is a goal we’ve always had.
“This is the first building block of actually getting us to that point.”
Jonah Rodriguez, the Coyotes’ Coordinator of Hispanic Hockey Development, is frequently at schools throughout the year to help teach the basics of the game.
He’s witnessed that interest firsthand while visiting various schools and said the only drawback to the kids’ emerging interest in hockey is that there’s nowhere for them to go once each clinic has completed. Though the Coyotes offer various skating and learn-to-play programs, such as Little Howlers, Los Howlitos, and 1st Stride Roller, there weren’t any programs for the kids who simply wanted to hit the pavement in shoes and play more.
Rodriguez said this league aims to change that.
“The kids love it; They’ll come up to me and say ‘Oh, hockey’s my new favorite sport. Where can I play?'” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to create a place where those kids can go and play. We wanted to give them a safe place to go, have fun, and work on their skills at the same time.”
The program costs 49 dollars, a tribute to Coyotes fan Leighton Accardo, who tragically passed away in 2020 at just nine years old after a courageous battle with cancer.
Accardo, who wore number 49 as a member of the Arizona Kachinas youth hockey program, was inducted into the Coyotes’ Ring of Honor in April 2021. Her legacy continues to inspire everyone within the organization.
“We want to keep her in all the things that we do,” Rodriguez said.
The benefits of participating in the league stretch beyond the athletic component. Learning the sport of hockey is unique and can often create bonds and teach life lessons that can be carried throughout life.
Fry, an Olympic silver medalist, knows all about that.
“Hockey is the only sport that resembles life in the sense that, when you get knocked down in other sports, the whistle blows and the play ends,” Fry said. “In hockey, you get knocked down, the play keeps going and you’ve got to get back up. I think that’s one of the things I really try to encourage in kids who are playing roller or ice hockey, is that idea, to get back up.”
Kids interested in playing can learn more at the official Gilbert Street Hockey League page.
Anyone on the fence about participating, though, should quite literally give it a shot.
“You get to go fast, you’re using your legs, you’re using your upper body, you’re doing something very unique, you’re shooting pucks, and it’s a special sport in a sense that not everyone’s doing it,” Fry said. “I think the biggest thing is just the bond you create with your teammates.
“I think if you’re unsure, get out there, try it out, and it’ll be a safe, fun, and inclusive environment.”
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