Craig youths skate through a game of sharks and minnows Saturday at the Moffat County Ice Rink. The Craig Youth Hockey Association was participating in Try Hockey Free Day, a nationwide event through USA Hockey that introduces children to the game with basic skating and stick instruction.

Photo by Nate Waggenspack

Craig youths skate through a game of sharks and minnows Saturday at the Moffat County Ice Rink. The Craig Youth Hockey Association was participating in Try Hockey Free Day, a nationwide event through USA Hockey that introduces children to the game with basic skating and stick instruction.

Craig youths get 1st taste of hockey at the Moffat County Ice Arena

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Youths from Craig took to the ice Saturday as part of a national initiative to popularize the sport of hockey among the younger age groups.

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Craig Youth hockey seasons are beginning soon. To learn more about the Craig Youth Hockey Association, visit www.craigyouthhockey.org.

The Craig Youth Hockey Association was participating in Try Hockey for Free Day, a USA Hockey program in which more than 500 hockey programs give basic instruction and introduce the sport to children ages 4 to 9. Saturday was the Try Hockey day for 2013, and Craig Youth Hockey Association had nearly 30 participants on the ice at the Moffat County Ice Arena.

“It’s a really cool event,” said Charity Neal, one of the organizing members from the association. “We as an association are always trying to grow in numbers and this is a good way to do that. A lot of kids are intimidated by hockey because they’ve never skated before and this is a way to get them some easy practice.”

To help attract newcomers, children already on Craig youth hockey teams attended and brought a friend along who had not skated or played hockey before. CYHA also offered free skate rentals Saturday and provided gear for those who needed it.

The group worked on basic skills, like skating and using a hockey stick properly, using some games to hammer those skills home.

“We played sharks and minnows and laser tag,” said Jamie Eckroth, a coach for the day. Sharks and minnows involves attempting to avoid others, similar to tag, in order to stay a “minnow," while laser tag had skaters trying to hit pucks accurately enough to “tag” out the others’ skates.

Taelee Knez, 8, attended and was skating and playing hockey for the first time, after seeing her father and older brother play for years. She enjoyed the two-hour session immensely.

“It was fun,” Knez said. “Getting to go skating was fun. I’ve seen my brother play before.”

The Colorado Avalanche of the NHL got involved with Craig’s Try Hockey day, as well. At the end of the practice, CYHA held a drawing and gave out 40 tickets to a Saturday night Avalanche game, donated by the team.

That helped finish off a great day, Neal said.

“Nobody quit today,” she said. “Usually we have at least a couple kids who are out there for 20 minutes and then decide they’re done, but that didn’t happen today. I think (the experienced hockey players) did a great job of pairing up and making it fun.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@CraigDailyPress.com.

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