When former Detroit Red Wings forward Dallas Drake, part of the Traverse City North Stars’ ownership group, brought the Stanley Cup to town following his championship swan song season in 2008, proceeds from his “Stanley By the Bay” event were earmarked for the area’s youth hockey programs.
Almost two years later, the Cup is still running over.
The Grand Traverse Hockey Association’s (GTHA) OneGoal program is a nonprofit organization comprised of a coalition of the National Hockey League (NHL), NHL Players Association, NHL Alumni Association, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and rinks across the continent, plus manufacturers (Easton-Bell, Reebok-CCM, Bauer) and retailers throughout North America.
The “one goal” of the consortium is to build greater awareness and understanding of the sport so that parents can make informed decisions about involving their families in hockey.
“Basically, we want to get as many kids involved with hockey as we can,” said GTHA ACE coordinator Dr. Kerry Russell. “There can be a financial burden associated with the cost of getting together the gear needed to play hockey. That’s where OneGoal comes in. We can get kids who might not otherwise get the chance to try hockey into a full set of gear.”
With funds generated from the Stanley By the Bay event, Russell and Drake were able to purchase 80 full sets of hockey gear and equipment for the OneGoal program, in the hopes of helping to grow the sport among area youth 8 and under.
The program format includes instructional classroom time with Drake and/or GTHA representatives, plus ice time and coaching at Traverse City’s Centre ICE Arena. Participants can bring their own skates or use the rink’s rental skates free of charge.
“We had a couple sessions in the spring, and had about 35-40 kids and had a great time,” said Drake, who spent 16 years in the NHL after winning an NCAA title while at Northern Michigan University. “Most of them were just learning how to skate, so we taught them how to get the equipment on, showed them a few things and let them bomb around out there. The parents really seemed to like it, and we even had a couple who wanted to register (for league play).”
Russell and Drake have taken the OneGoal program to the next level this year, allowing Mite-aged players (3-8) to use the equipment during the upcoming GTHA season for a refundable $50 deposit. Additionally, the GTHA permits parents to pay for the season in four $35 installments.
“The idea is to make it as affordable as possible for any families who want to get their kids involved in hockey,” Russell added. “There’s some sticker shock to all the gear and the fees, and these are things than can really make it accessible.”
The OneGoal program will likely hold its next orientation skates before the December holiday season, depending on how many participants in the upcoming GTHA season take advantage of the OneGoal equipment offer.
“If families want to introduce their kids to the Mite hockey, there are a number of great options that make it reasonable,” Russell said. “It’s everyone’s goal to make the sport as inclusive as possible. There’s a great group of parents, coaches, volunteers and supporters here, which makes the ground pretty fertile for growing the game.”
Drake, who serves as a GTHA coach as well the organization’s director of hockey, says the aims of the “Stanley By the Bay” event are becoming fully realized.
“Absolutely,” Drake surmised. “It’s always been about getting kids involved, getting to play the game we love - like I got to growing up. Hockey has given me everything in my life, and we’re all just trying to give back.”