Representatives from the Columbus Blue Jackets organization stopped by Oak Creek Elementary School in Lewis Center on Wednesday as part of the “CBJ Hockey to Go” program. Joe Renza, the fan development coordinator for CBJ, and Andrew Rankin, a University of Mississippi student who is interning with the Blue Jackets, led first-grade students through a series of drills that focused on fundamental hockey skills such as stick handling, passing and shooting.
The program, which was launched in February, is completely free to schools and youth programs. Renza said the goal of the program is to “get sticks into the kids’ hands and introduce them to street hockey … just get them thinking about hockey on the most basic level.”
Clinics are designed for boys and girls of all skill levels between the ages of 6 and 14. In addition to the sessions throughout the school year, clinics are also held at various camps throughout the summer. Renza said this past summer, 23 clinics were held in the span of 46 days.
Renza and Rankin cited the costs associated with playing hockey and the seemingly daunting task of learning to skate as significant barriers that serve as deterrents for kids getting into the game. Along with the clinics being free, Renza, who came to the Blue Jackets from the New York Rangers organization, said he is beginning to see that teaching the youth basic skills before they hit the ice might be more beneficial.
“With ice problems around here — it’s growing so much and there isn’t enough ice for kids who want to play — I think street hockey is an even more important opportunity to keep learning these skills,” Renza said.
He added, “If I had to make a diagram of where to start, I think the basic skills should come before skating. Everyone thinks that in order to play hockey, you have to know how to skate first. You peel it back and learn the basic skills first, which is what we teach here.”
In addition to hockey skills, the clinics focus on other important aspects for children such as teamwork, listening and following directions.
Following the clinic, students were treated to a surprise guest — Stinger, the CBJ mascot — who, along with Renza, helped educate the students on the franchise’s primary logo and what the different elements of the logo represented. Students also received a notebook and a signed picture from Stinger. Each participant will also have access to two free tickets to a Blue Jackets game this season, as well as discounts on additional tickets.
Anyone interested in scheduling a clinic can find more information on the program and request a session under the community tab at www.bluejackets.com. Renza can be contacted for additional assistance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 614-246-6353.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.