Blackhawks hockey has risen in popularity around the Chicago area over the past decade. Part of the reason has been the major success of the hockey team spurring regional pride. 3 Stanley Cups in the last 7 years make quite the difference.
This has given Chicago a rebirth as a hockey town once again. Bars and restaurants proudly fly Blackhawks flags and make sure their televisions are tuned in to the games. Blackhawks colors light up the downtown area.
The local amateur hockey scene has grown tremendously over the years. Before the Blackhawks started winning again, USA Hockey reported about 22,000 registered amateur hockey players. This includes adults all the way down to the youth leagues. For the 2014-2015 season, these numbers rose to over 30,500, or roughly a 37 percent increase from 2007-2008. This is more than twice the national growth of about 14 percent.
Illinois ranks fifth among the hockey-playing population, behind states you might expect — Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Massachusetts.
The Blackhawks organization has also made a concerted effort to spread the passion of hockey to the community, especially to youth. Hockey is an expensive sport, but the Blackhawks want to make it available to every child who is interested in giving it a try.
Here are a few of the youth programs the Blackhawks organization has opened up to the community.
Youth Hockey and Fan Development
The mission of Youth Hockey and Fan Development is to expose the community to the game of hockey and introduce the sport to those who have never played it but have always wanted to try. In their hockey camps, they help youth develop their skills and techniques while spreading the Blackhawks brand throughout the state of Illinois.
Get Out and Learn, or G.O.A.L., formerly known as Streethawks, introduces hockey to children who might not otherwise have an opportunity to play. G.O.A.L brings hockey to school and community centers. The Blackhawks provide equipment, instruction and advice from regional experts.
Select schools get two one-hour hockey clinics from the Blackhawks youth outreach staff. The schools get to keep all the equipment the Blackhawks bring, which includes two goals, 30 hockey sticks and 30 balls.
Why balls, not pucks?
Before kids commit full scale to the demands of an ice hockey team, they can get a taste of it experimenting with inline or roller hockey. This type of hockey is played on concrete or asphalt using inline skates, which are a type of roller skates where the wheels are lined up in one single row instead of being on either end. There isn’t full contact or traditional hockey, and the equipment is much more affordable. Kids still can develop stick handling skills and learn the basic constructs of the game.
Kennedy Park Hockey Rink
The Blackhawks organization, in conjunction with the City of Chicago, opened the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Rink at Kennedy Park. The rink is 80 x 175 feet and open to the public. The surface is suitable for street hockey played in athletic shoes or roller hockey using inline skates
The rink makes hockey accessible to all and will continue to increase the interest in the sport throughout the region. Student athletes can develop their skills at an earlier age and will have a greater chance of getting college scholarships.
Blackhawks Inflatable Rink
The Blackhawks have created a portable inflatable hockey rink they can bring to children at schools, community centers and summer programs. Blackhawks Fan Development teaches hockey skills including passing, shooting, stick handling and the importance of team play. The Blackhawks provide the rink and equipment at no charge to the community.
Chicago Blackhawks Community Ice Arena
It’s not just street hockey the Blackhawks are bringing to the community. The Blackhawks are spending $65 million to build a 125,000-square-foot facility, which will have two ice rinks and several locker rooms. Youth can bring the skills they learned on the street and play the sport as it was intended.
This arena will be the Blackhawks new practice facility. There will be rooms for shooting and stick handling practice and state-of-the-art weight rooms and exercise facilities.
Both rinks are equipped with stadium seating and are capable of sponsoring major events. The Blackhawks state that over 90 percent of the arena will be open to the public for their use as well as for community and youth programs, school events and for hosting recreational leagues and high school teams.
The Blackhawks are also reaching out to Chicago's underprivileged youth by making the arena available to them as well. They are spending more than $3 million for transportation, equipment, instruction and free meal programs.
The Chicago Blackhawks have shown they are more than just an elite hockey team. They are a partner with the community and local government, and they are model citizens of the greater Chicago area. They promote a lot more than just youth hockey. They promote compassion, teamwork and community pride.
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