Five-year-old Teagan Golden had never ice-skated until Sunday when she learned the basics of hockey with former New York Rangers star Ron Duguay at a Bethpage ice rink.
The Holbrook girl skated a few feet and fell. And fell again. And again and again and again. But she emerged from the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center with a wide smile.
“It was fun to play on the ice,” Teagan said.
Teagan was one of more than 200 children ages 5 to 9 who participated in the Rangers’ Try Hockey for Free sessions at the rink with Duguay, all-time Rangers scoring leader Rod Gilbert and instructors with the team’s Junior Rangers program.
Try Hockey for Free was created in 2012 to spur interest in the sport at an early age.
But hockey has become more expensive than other sports, with high costs for rink ice time and for skates, pads, helmets and other equipment, Gilbert said. That’s unlike when Gilbert was a kid growing up in Montreal, where free outdoor rinks were always nearby, and the only equipment besides the stick and puck were the skates that his older brother handed down to him, he said. As a result, the best young U.S. athletes typically gravitate toward other sports such as basketball or football, Gilbert said.
Try Hockey for Free, and the related Rangers Assist program, which donates equipment and provides free hockey clinics, lets kids “at least find out if they have the potential or ability to play” and cultivates the talent of children who could one day play professional hockey, Gilbert said.
Ryan Cuciti, 5, of Levittown, is “a big Rangers fan” and was eager to play the sport. But his father, Christopher Cuciti, 40, didn’t know how he’d fare on the ice.
“This is a great opportunity for someone like him who hasn’t been on the ice to see if he really likes it before you go out and buy all the equipment,” Cuciti said.
Casey Heda, 7, of Massapequa Park, is in a street hockey league but had never skated on ice until Sunday.
Although he knew how to hold a stick and aim the puck, he sometimes struggled to stay on his feet.
“He’s trying to get it in there,” father Brian Heda, 43, said from behind the rink glass. “He’s trying — and he’s down.”
But even splayed out on the ice, Casey kept trying to push the puck into the net with his stick.
A Nov. 3 Rangers Assist-sponsored game at the Oyster Bay rink, featuring several former Rangers players, will benefit the town hockey program. Town director of operations Andy Rothstein said money raised will help subsidize the program.