June 6, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
A popular NHL-sponsored ice hockey program for kids is returning to Long Island City in August and its limited spaces are filling up fast.
The program, called Learn to Play, aims to develop the next generation of hockey players by providing affordable hockey lessons and equipment to kids.
The lessons are being offered to both boys and girls aged 5 through 9 to encourage them to take up the sport. The program will take place at a specialized indoor ice-skating facility called LIC-Ice, located at 10-12 46th Rd. which features a 2,300-square-foot rink.
Now in its sixth year, Learn to Play aims to reduce some of the obstacles associated with accessing the sport that includes high equipment costs and ice time.
Participating kids will be provided with “head-to-toe” equipment including an ice hockey stick and helmet, skates, pads, gloves, a jersey as well as an equipment bag and more. The children who participate in the lessons will get to keep the equipment that typically costs around $450.
The New York Islanders organize the program as part of a national initiative where the NHL and NHL Players’ Association team up with clubs to teach children how to play hockey. The organizations heavily subsidize the costs of the program, providing children of all backgrounds with the opportunity to play the game, according to Lucia Grosek, who manages LIC-ICE.
“You see kids of every ethnicity at our facility and around half of them are boys and half are girls – it’s a beautiful melting pot,” Grosek said.
“We hope to attract as many kids as possible from Queens and from across the Tri-State areas over the coming months.”
A maximum number of 12 children per session will receive coaching from New York Islanders-affiliated coaches, with drop-in sessions featuring former Islanders players Arron Asham and Radek Martínek. There will be three coaches at each session, Grosek said.
Sparky the Dragon, the mascot for the New York Islanders, also visits the sessions.
Organizers are now accepting children for their summer program as well as for a separate fall/winter course.
The program dates are designed to cater to the school calendar and the facility is conveniently located for parents to drop off their children, Grosek said.
The summer courses will run twice a week— from Aug. 1 through Sept. 1 — at a total cost of $410 per participant.
The fall/winter sessions will take place once a week — from Sept. 12 through Dec. 23 — at a cost of between $533 and $656 per participant.
Nearly 1,000 kids have graduated from the program since its inception and around 95 percent of them are still playing the game, a marker of the program’s success, Grosek said.
Many of the young prodigies come from across the Tri-State area given the program’s appeal.
“There has been an overwhelming demand,” Grosek said. “This is a great opportunity for kids to try the program and learn how to play hockey.”
A key factor to the program’s success, Grosek said, has been the small class sizes which ensure that each player is given the full attention of the coaches.
Grosek said the program has had a positive impact on the area with local interest in hockey skyrocketing over the last number of years.
“I see young kids walking around Long Island City with the Islanders bags and hockey sticks, it’s pretty cool,” Grosek said.
“They have become big fans of the sport and we are becoming a New York Islanders stronghold.”
Registration and more information on Learn to Play can be found at the following link: https://ltpislanders.leagueapps.com/events/1795663-l.i.c.-ice
Advanced registration is required for the program, with early enrollment encouraged because of the high demand and shrinking availability.
Readers can learn more about LIC-ICE and its facilities here: http://www.licice.com