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Life Among the Little Rookies and Zamboni Moms

The Dallas Stars know how to indoctrinate the next generation of fans.
By Dan Koller |
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There’s an important lesson that all young hockey players must learn the hard way: when you have gloves on your hands and a cage over your face, it’s impossible to stick your finger in your nose. “Daddy, I need you to pick my boogers for me,” my 5-year-old said as he poked at the cage.

The Hallmark moment that I’ll treasure forever—and remind him of when he’s a cocky teen—happened just before my son’s second session with the Dallas Stars Little Rookies. The program offers 30-minute hockey lessons on four consecutive Saturdays to kids ages 4 to 8. His classes happened in Farmers Branch, but the Stars provide them at nine other suburban rinks, plus one each in Austin and Houston. The best part? The coaching, the ice time, and the equipment are all free. All you have to do is sign up.

The team is doing this to captivate the next generation of ticket-buying fans, but in my son’s case, it’s overkill; he was hooked on hockey a few minutes into his first Stars game. As soon as he saw Little Rookies promoted on the scoreboard, he begged me to sign him up. 

My dad raised me on hockey but strictly as a spectator. When it came to playing, my son and I both had a lot to learn. For example, I didn’t know hockey players wear garter belts to hold up their “hockey socks,” aka leg warmers. It says something about the life I’ve led that the first time I ever touched a garter belt was when I was putting one on my 5-year-old son.

The garter belt and hockey socks go on after the shin pads but before the padded shorts, the shoulder pads, the elbow pads, the jersey, the gloves, the skates, and the helmet. If you haven’t spent much time around kindergartners lately, know that they are perpetually in motion. Putting all that equipment on my son was like changing a tire during a high-speed car chase.

Once he and the nearly 40 other Little Rookies had all donned their identical uniforms and helmets, it was difficult to tell them apart. For a couple of scary minutes, I had no idea which kid was mine. Luckily, my son came into this experience with hockey hair (please, let’s not call it a mullet), so I was able to identify him eventually by the curls protruding from under his helmet. But I still affixed a couple pieces of blue tape to that helmet so my wife and I could spot him more easily.

Like most of his classmates, my boy had never been on ice skates until that first Saturday. The first lesson taught him how to properly pick himself up, because, as the lead coach promised, “You will fall down.” My kid, normally a paragon of self-confidence, looked shell-shocked every time he hit the ice. I tried to stay supportive, flashing a smile and a thumbs-up whenever our eyes met through the glass.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was the Zamboni mom. Think of her as being like a helicopter mom, except rather than hover above the lesson, she bulldozed it. The Zamboni mom stood on the edge of the ice, wearing wedges, jeans, and a tank top, yelling at her daughter to get up and stand tall. That girl’s life must feel like one long penalty kill. The mom was oblivious not only to the line of kids she was preventing from entering the ice but also to the wordy sign nearby that could be summed up thusly: “Shut your traps, parents, and let the coaches coach.”

Those coaches, a mix of adults and teenagers of both genders, did a great job. Three weeks after my son had spent most of the first lesson on his rear end or his belly, he stick-handled a puck across the rink without falling. And that’s despite the fact that he was wearing figure skates instead of hockey skates. I didn’t know there was a difference until I was asked for his preference before the final session. For consistency’s sake, I opted to go figure skates. 

If the hockey thing doesn’t work out for him, there’s always ice dancing.

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