×

Having a Wild Time: Campion Rink’s ‘Learn to Play’ Program Lets Coaches Give Back

  • Coach Dan Peraza, of Hanover, N.H., tells his 60 charges their first drill of the morning as part of the Learn to Play program at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 2, 2017. In his youth, Peraza was participant in the program for four- to eight-year-olds and eventually played hockey at Yale from 1995-98. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Parent Steve McConnell, of Hanover, N.H., helps Clara Trimarco, 4, of Hanover, with her stick work during the early morning Learn to Play program at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 2, 2017. The program is for four- to eight-year-olds in their first foray into the game of hockey. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mike Herrick, of Hanover, N.H., follows the children under the limbo bar hockey stick held by Alyssa Kelley, of Lebanon, N.H., during at drill at the early morning Learn to Play program at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 2, 2017. Parents assist coach Dan Peraza with the drills for the four- to eight-year-olds in the program. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Clara Trimarco, 4, of Hanover, N.H., takes a quick break after a tumble on the ice during the early morning Learn to Play program at Campion Rink in West Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 2, 2017. The program is for four- to eight-year-olds in their first foray into the game of hockey. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

West Lebanon — On weekend mornings, Hanover Youth Hockey coaches do their best to keep the fun in fundamentals — and the kids seem to be catching on.

Learn to Play Wild hockey sessions welcome dozens of 4- to 8-year-old puck denizens to Campion Rink, scattering into groups to focus on basics like stick and hands maneuvering, head position and movement exercises. The drills, which run from approximately 8 to 9 a.m., get many families out of the house early, but participants such as volunteer coach Will Mudge and his 4-year-old daughter, Dorothy, aren’t complaining.

“She really likes coming out; we both do,” said Mudge, of Lyme. “I think she loves having all of the other kids around and just enjoys getting better.”

Aside from helping to build a skills foundation for the children, Learn to Play affords coaches the opportunity to give back to a program that many of them participated in themselves as youths. That includes fifth-year head coach Dan Peraza, a Learn to Play skater in the 1980s who went on to play for Hanover High and Yale University.

“It’s all about having fun at this age, which is how I always remember it from when I played,” said Peraza, whose Learn to Play activities were held at the since-demolished Davis Rink in downtown Hanover, now the site of Dartmouth College’s Berry Sports Center. “We want them to come out here for an hour and just learn to enjoy the game.”

That’s not to say skills aren’t progressing. Coaches at Saturday’s outing — part of the penultimate weekend of the season’s first of three six-week sessions — marveled at the kids’ development since late October.

“It’s pretty fantastic to see how much better they are now,” said Peraza, whose youngest daughter, 4-year-old Cecilia, is enrolled. “A lot of them either can’t skate or are very limited skaters when we first start out. We don’t use any pucks at first. Now they’re all using pucks and getting a lot better with their hands.”

One drill on Saturday emphasized puck control in close quarters as charges maneuvered around a faceoff circle. “You want to keep the puck on your team and away from the other team,” coach Ryan McGregor told an especially young-looking group. “Work on keeping your elbows away from your body, shift your weight and look around when you skate with the puck.”

McGregor, who moved to the area to attend Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, learned to play at the municipal rink it his hometown of Haverhill, Mass.

“This is a little bit more structured than what I had,” he said. “I don’t remember too much about puck control until a little later, but these kids do a great job with it.”

Lebanon resident Becky Rhoads, a former University of Vermont player, relishes the chance to instruct youngsters today. She puts extra effort into connecting with the girls in the program, remembering what it was like when she learned to play with mostly boys in her hometown of Rutland.

“It’s important they know this program isn’t just for boys and their dads,” said Rhoads, who also helps run the Upper Valley Floor Hockey program at Lebanon’s Carter Community Building Association with her husband, Jared Rhoads. “Sometimes when you talk to girls about the game, their (enthusiasm) is somewhat so-so. I try to let them know that we’re here for them and that they totally belong here.”

Norwich resident Dave Bartlett, who also played at Hanover High, said having a vibrant Learn to Play program is particularly important in an era when there are fewer backyard rinks — or reliable outdoor skating surfaces in general — compared to his 1980s childhood.

“It used to be you were on outdoor rinks every Saturday and Sunday in the winter, but there has been less opportunity for that in recent years,” Bartlett said. “Occom Pond, for example, hasn’t really frozen over for long enough for the type of pond hockey we used to see there as kids. But it’s been impressive to see what these kids have done here. Five weeks ago, a lot of them could barely stand up.”

In keeping with the light tone of the program, one of Saturday’s work stations was a game of limbo. The day concluded with Asteroid, sending kids sprawling the length of the ice while coaches softly peppered them with pucks from the side. Those who were hit had to join the coaches for the next wave until the field was narrowed down.

After a quick cheer at center ice — “Go Wild!” — it was time to make way for the Mites program to take the ice next. Learn to Play would return Sunday, then begin counting down to the session’s final outing this weekend.

“By Tuesday, my son (Cooper) is saying, ‘Is it hockey yet?’ ” Rhoads said. “They want to get right back out there.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

  Correction

Former University of Vermont women’s hockey player Becky Rhoads is a coach for the Learn to Play Wild youth hockey program, and she and her husband, Jared Rhoads, run the Upper Valley Floor Hockey program at Lebanon’s Carter Community Building Association. Their last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.