Perspectives: Children, adults alike can strap on hockey skates

Once every four years the National Hockey League comes to a screeching halt so the league’s superstars can represent their respective countries in the Winter Olympics.

Many area hockey nuts will be filling the void by cheering on Team USA-and maybe a few favorite players from other countries-during the interim.

But there is no reason to live vicariously through Olympic athletes. There are plenty of local options for children and adults to play floor hockey, roller hockey and even ice hockey.

Approximately an hour away, Ohio University’s Bird Arena offers options for adults and children to learn, play, or simply watch ice hockey.

“You don’t have to have any hockey experience to play,” said Jonathon Sheridan, head coach for Ohio University’s men’s ice hockey team.

Children as young as 3 to 4 years old can join the arena’s “Learn to Play Hockey” program. The eight-week program costs $99 and is a great way for youth to transition into the Athens Youth Hockey Association (AYHA), said Sheridan.

The AYHA offers five age brackets ranging from the Mite league for children ages 8 and younger and the Midget league for high school students.

Vienna residents Jeff and Kelly Mahurin take their sons Daniel 12, and Isaac, 10, to “Learn to Play Hockey” classes and their youngest son Sam, 7, is in the Mite league.

“They all like to watch hockey so it just gives them a chance to play a sport they love to watch,” said Jeff.

The sport helps keep the boys active in winter, he said. For Daniel, who is autistic, the sport has meant a noticeable improvement in his fine motor skills and school grades, he added.

“The more physical activity he does, the more he’s improved in school,” Jeff Mahurin said.

Vienna residents Melonie and Marc Ohler also take their 10-year-old son JT to the Athens youth league.

JT said making hockey friends has been his favorite part of playing, but he also does not mind the hard work required by his coach.

“He makes us work a lot. We do a lot of different drill: skating, shooting, passing,” he said.

South Charleston Memorial Ice Arena is also a short drive away and has hockey classes coming up, said Butch Buckley, assistant director of the facility.

“We have a hockey league for ages 5 up to 18 and they play 10 games here and 10 games away,” he said.

The arena also features Huff N’ Puff League on Tuesday and Thursday for “a bunch of really good older guys that used to be die hard players,” he added.

At Bird Arena, adults can drop in on a game Sunday night, said Sheridan.

“You pay $5 and go skate for an hour and a half and whoever shows up is on your team,” he said.

Bird Arena also has league hockey for adults. The 10-week sessions include two games a week at the arena, he said.

When it comes to hockey equipment, skates, a helmet, a stick, and gloves are the must-haves, said Sheridan. A variety of other padding is also recommended.

For many things, such as the “Learn to Play Hockey” program, the basics are provided by the arena. Purchased equipment ranges from $10 for a basic stick to $40 for a helmet, said Sheridan.

If ice hockey seems a little intimidating, the Vienna Recreation Sports has children’s and adults floor hockey leagues that start in November and run through March.

Marietta resident Greg Grimes participates in both the floor hockey league in Vienna and roller hockey drop-in games at the Marietta Roller Rink.

“Around here, it’s a different sport. It’s something new to try and it involves a different skill set than most conventional sports,” said Grimes, 31.

The Marietta Roller Rink offers drop-in roller hockey Wednesday and Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

“If you really want to play, you have to start with learning how to skate,” said Grimes.

Sheridan offered a tip from a famous hockey player’s father: “When he taught Wayne Gretzky, his dad was always telling him look where you’re going not down at your feet. Your feet are always going to be there, but you don’t know what’s in front of you.”

Both Bird Arena and South Charleston Memorial Ice Arena also offer plenty of options to see some great college ice hockey games.

West Virginia University will be playing Virginia Tech in Charleston this Saturday and Sunday, said Buckley.

Ohio University has a full schedule this year and the annual Ice Ghost Game will be held Feb. 28 and March 1, said Sheridan.

The charity event pits OU alumni against current players and all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society, said Sheridan.