AREA YOUTH TEAMS 'BREAK THE ICE' AT THE BLUE CROSS ARENANews | 9/27/2012 7:22:23 PM | Warren Kosel
Well, it’s safe to say it’s officially hockey season again in Rochester.
No more than 24 hours after The Blue Cross Arena building crew applied the final coat of paint on the Amerks logo and flooded the surface with one last layer of water, the transformation of the downtown barn from a slab of concrete to an American Hockey League rink became complete Thursday evening as Tri-County’s Pre-Mite team and the Rochester Grizzlies’ ’99 Bantam Minor squad were selected as this year’s teams to formally “break the ice.”
Selected among numerous entries from various youth organizations across the region, both teams were nominated on the Rochester Americans’ official Facebook page to be the first skaters of the 2012-13 season prior to the Amerks’ first training camp practice. It was an opportunity that both teams simply could not pass up.
“What a big moment for the kids just to be on the ice and have the opportunity to skate where professional players play every day,” said Tri-County Initiation Head Coach Jason Horn.”
Joined by Amerks legend and AHL Hall of Famer Jody Gage, the teams were each treated to an hour-long practice session while having the chance to skate on the same ice that many of their favorite Amerks players do. Gage, who played 11 seasons with the Amerks and stands as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, provided valuable on-ice instruction to both teams, offering the Pre-Mite players assistance with their skating and basic fundamentals while running the much older Grizzlies through a series of drills.
“Jody has had such an amazing career in the AHL, but more importantly here in Rochester, so I told the kids to make sure they were listening to every word he was telling them out there. The biggest thing for them though is just to have fun and that’s what will keep bringing them back to the ice.”
In addition to lending his expertise to the young players, it was also a chance for Gage to revisit the game in its purest form and when it’s most fun. He shared with the kids the importance of being a good teammate and an even better listener as both play an important role beyond that of a hockey setting.
“Being out here with these kids at such a young age brings back a lot of memories for me,” said Gage, known to many throughout the community as ‘Mr. Amerk.’ “I started when I was five and it’s truly amazing to see how quickly they pick up the game. To me, this is when hockey is most fun and this is what hockey is all about.”
Thursday’s “breaking of the ice” marked the second straight season the Amerks hosted such an event, but the first that teams were invited to take part. Youth teams were determined based on their submissions to the Amerks’ Official Facebook and Twitter pages after fans were encouraged to tell the Amerks why their team should be the first skaters of the season. Due to the tremendous overall response and the incredible amount of very worthy entries, the Amerks modified the contest to allow two deserving teams – one younger and one older – as this year’s lucky winners.
“These kids will remember this moment for the rest of their lives,” added Horn. “You could just see how much fun they were having and that’s really the most important thing.”