The Albany County Learn to Skate/Learn to Play Hockey program is midway through its inaugural six-week run at the county rink in Colonie. The free program is attracting children ages 5-9 from across the county to take their first steps on the ice. Rob Jonas/Spotlight
COLONIE — A new program is helping young children learn how to skate for free.
Albany County’s Learn to Skate/Learn to Play Hockey program at the Albany County Hockey Facility is pairing children ages 5-9 with high school and college athletes to introduce them to the winter sport.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever offered programs like this in Albany County,” said County Executive Dan McCoy, who attended a program session Saturday, March 19. “We started the youth bureau in January, and we’ve really hit the ground running. We’ve introduced a thousand kids in Albany County to different sports.”
Shaker/Colonie hockey coach Scott Rock and Siena College hockey coach Jeff Fraser run the six-week program, with assistance from their players.
“I’ve been doing these kinds of programs for 15 years in other areas,” said Rock. “But when the county came to me … to do this, it was natural to involve our players and to ask Siena to be involved. I also asked other high school teams. I thought it would be a great representation of Section 2 hockey to be out here helping to get a whole new generation of skaters and players.”
The young skaters go through several stations on the ice, starting with learning the basics of staying balanced on skates by using a wooden sled to support themselves as a coach guides them along. They gradually move away from the sleds to skating with a coach and then on their own. Once they can do that, they learn hockey techniques such as turns and skating backwards.
Siena hockey player Dave Hunter said it was important to him to volunteer as a coach.
“It’s just really gratifying being able to come up and help out kids learn the game of hockey and learn to skate,” said Hunter, who grew up in Clifton Park.
Colonie resident Tara Cavanaugh brought her 5-year-old daughter, Layla, to the program.
“She’s very happy,” said Cavanaugh. “She was a little apprehensive at first to get out there, but they made her feel very calm and welcoming, and she’s doing a great job.”
Making it a free program was important to McCoy, and the move has paid off.
“We had 300 families show up on the first day to register, and they continue to register,” said McCoy.
The program continues through April 9.
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