August 9, 2012 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Call it coincidence or direct cause and effect, but since the Blackhawks brought home the Stanley Cup in 2010, more hockey fans have been cropping up around the city.
One Chicago congressman and few of his buddies are also making sure there are more hockey “players.” It’s how they show their “Spirit of Giving.”
There’s plenty of action on the ice at the Blackhawks’ practice arena. At Johnny’s Icehouse West on the Near West Side, a new generation of players is lacing up. Tyrese Hall, 9, is a goalie who hit the ice for the first time just a few weeks ago. Already, he says he’s getting good.
“When you first learn hockey, if you don’t know how to skate it’s hard for you,” said Hall. “I like how the goalie, he blocks all the shots and he catches all the pucks.”
Hall is playing as part of a free program called “Hockey on Your Block.” Congressman Mike Quigley tapped longtime friend and fellow hockey lover Ray Lilja to get it started.
“The NHL tells the world that hockey is for everyone, but it’s only for everyone if people have access,” said Quigley.
“The City of Chicago incredibly is one of the only cities in America that doesn’t have an inner-city youth hockey program,” said Lilja, director of Hockey on your Block. “We all decided we want to give back to the community and we all love the game of hockey so it wasn’t hard finding volunteers to come and join us.
Students seem to relish the challenge, even if it means having to educate family and friends to gain support.
“The usual reaction is, there’s no black people playing hockey and I get mad because if they actually look and watch the game, they’ll see it’s black people in the NHL,” said right winger Christopher Jones, 17.
Quigley learned the game as a child and still plays about twice a week. He hopes this program will motivate young people both on and off the ice.
“If these kids don’t mind a few stitches and a few surgeries, it’s a great sport! It’s better than sitting on the couch all day. It keeps you very active,” said Quigley.
In addition to the mechanics of the game, volunteers say the young players also learn discipline and camaraderie which will carry over into their school work. All of the equipment is also donated, so there is no cost to families for children who want to play.