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Ice school

You, too, can play hockey

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Ice hockey is the quintessential winter sport. The game requires a rare combination of strength and finesse, but the goal is simple: get the puck in the back of the other team's net. And it all starts by stepping out onto the ice with skates on.

But for people who never played the sport when they were growing up, or played it as kid only to abandon it later, the idea of taking up hockey as an activity – essentially from scratch – can be daunting.

That's where the Never Ever League, a year-round adult hockey program at Bill Gray's Regional Iceplex, comes in. A comprehensive training class that spans 11 weeks and culminates in an organized hockey game, Never Ever teaches participants the fundamental skills and technical details of the game: skating, stickhandling with the puck, passing, shooting, and game scenarios.

"The main thing is to just really get comfortable with skating first," program director Tyler Fess says. In the first three weeks of classes, the players are focused mostly on skating before moving on to other core hockey skills. "But you really want to be like a sound skater," Fess says, "so we're always working on trying to get better strides, or better edgework, better balance."

PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

Fess has found that a fear of falling and getting injured can be the biggest deterrent to people trying hockey and joining the program. "It doesn't hurt that bad if you fall correctly, and you're completely padded," he says. "So what's nice is, the first night, we teach you how to fall and stand back up."

With in-depth instruction and opportunity for one-on-one advice from the instructors, the Never Ever League champions a non-judgmental atmosphere. No checking of other players is allowed, and at any given session, players can be seen and heard encouraging one another. No one is belittled for making a mistake. And the instructors are patient and supportive.

Along with the positive vibes, the Never Ever League benefits from being a coed program for anyone 18 years or older, adding diversity to a predominantly white, male sport. Recently, Fess has noticed more hockey parents – mothers in particular – participating in the program.

PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

"Now they have that interest of also trying to learn the game, just as their kid's learning the game," Fess says. "We teach them all the basics – fundamentals of skating, fundamentals of passing – just basic rules of the game and all of that. So once they get that background, it kind of rolls over with how their kid's playing."

Though the environment at Never Ever League sessions is casual, the need for focus and determination is real. When honing their skills, players have to pay attention to numerous details simultaneously: the position of their skates, how they hold the hockey stick, the position of the puck on the stick, and other technical aspects.

At the end of 11 weeks, graduates of the program frequently decide to continue playing hockey formally. Three divisions have been added to the Iceplex Adult Hockey League to accommodate Never Ever graduates, Fess says. "After they learn through Never Ever, they want to keep playing hockey, form a team, and they jump into the adult league," he says.

Fess acknowledges that not everyone who graduates from the program decides to stick with the sport. "But at least they'll still now be like a recreational skater, so they'll be able to enjoy going to a public skate or something like that," he says. "But more often than not, they are kind of funneling into the adult league and creating teams, and building friendships within the program."

The cost of participating in the Never Ever League includes a $250 program registration fee and, if needed, a $100 equipment rental kit with skates, a stick, helmet and cage, gloves, pads, an equipment bag. Players can opt to buy the kit at discounted rate of $255 after completing the program. Goalies who already own their own gear can get a $100 discount on their program registration. While Fess admits that hockey can be an expensive sport to play, flexible payment plans are available for those who can't pay the entire program cost up front.

PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

The Never Ever League at Bill Gray's Regional Iceplex, 2700 Brighton Henrietta Town Line Road, has the following upcoming sessions: Thursdays, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., February 21 to May 2; Fridays, 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., March 1 to May 10; Sundays, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., February 24 to May 12. For more information, call 424-4625 or go to billgraysiceplex.com/nevereverleague.

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