Howard Smith – Pittsburgh ICE: (June 23, 2011):
First, can you tell readers how the ICE program got started and how it’s funded?
Pittsburgh ICE (formerly known as Hockey in the Hood) was founded by several people from the Pittsburgh Penguins Alumni Association, and Mr. Clifford G Benson of Deloitte Consulting.
The concept of the program was to introduce kids in the city of Pittsburgh to the game of ice hockey. A lot of kids cannot afford to play hockey and do not have the access or means to even attempt to try the game.
The National Hockey league, seeing how hockey was growing in the mid-1990’s developed an idea to get kids from the cities (predominently from the inner cities) the chance to play hockey. This concept was developed by the National Hockey League in 1994. The programs that formed this concept created the National Hockey League Diversity Task Force now called Hockey Is For Everyone. Our first season was in
October 2000 and we have just concluded our 11th season of hockey in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh ICE is a learn to skate/learn to play program. We have over the years developed a lot of players that have gone on to play high school locally. Our program has had an 8 year relationship with Carrick High School. Many past and current Carrick Cougars hockey players got their initial hockey start and training with Pittsburgh ICE. This program is funded through grants and donations from various
organizations and support from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation , the National Hockey League and many fundraising events during the course of the season.
Hockey in Pittsburgh seems to have improved tremendously with area players like Gibson, Saad, Miller, Trocheck and Houser all ranking high for the NHL draft. What do you attribute this to?
This is attributed to the exposure of hockey to many kids in the Pittsburgh area. With more high schools developing teams and more access to amateur programs, players are getting more opportunities to hone their skills on the ice thus being able to compete at a much higher level.
In spreading the hockey message, how do you first get children who have not had the opportunity to experience hockey interested in the sport – especially if there’s a perception that they cannot afford to play?
I go out into the city to the various youth recreation centers and talk about the program. Word of mouth has really been a huge success in getting kids involved in this program. During the school year I will speak with local school officials about the program and just explain to them what the program is about and how kids can join.
Once done, how does your organization make hockey more accessible to those children in the Pittsburgh region?
We make hockey more accessible by providing the instruction, equipment and ice time to kids that want to learn to play. The only cost to a parent that wants their child to participate in this program is $35.00. That does not go to Pittsburgh ICE. That fee is for USA HOCKEY registration which is required for all participants of USA HOCKEY affiliated programs. This is insurance. All players, on-ice volunteers and coaches are required to pay this.
Where/how do you think you can you improve in terms of the program and are there plans to do so?
Each year we have grown. In our first season (2000 – 2001) we had 30 kids. This past season we had over 150 kids registered with the program. We anticipate that same amount maybe a few more this coming 2011-2012 season.
We look to improve each year through fundraising, community awareness of our program and just overall getting a lot of kids to try a sport that they may otherwise have no accessibility to try.
Does the Penguins organization get involved in the program – if so, how?
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been involved with this program since our first season. Over the past 11 years the Penguins have been OUTSTANDING with their support. From player visits to the practices to providing tickets to games during the season to having our kids skate at Consol Energy Center for various hockey events, the Penguins are very Pro-Active in their support of Pittsburgh ICE.
Our program is very fortunate to have such support. There are some programs similar to ours in other cities that have an NHL team and those programs get marginal support from their NHL team. Our original program logo featured the ‘Skating Penguin” logo. Our program was very honored to have the “Skating Penguin” as part of our logo.
The Penguins have been highly touted for their involvement in community affairs and the growth of hockey in the region. It appears to a major initiative of the organization – not just “something else they do”. How is this fostered through the organization and why is this so important to the Penguins?
I feel it is important because in my opinion, the Penguins are very supportive of youth hockey in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins want to see more kids playing the great game of hockey and with various youth hockey camps available to kids, the Penguins are making hockey available to all kids in the Pittsburgh area. The first step is to reach out to those kids that cannot for what ever reason play hockey. The Penguins have done that through programs like Street Pals (Street Hockey),and Dek Hockey programs. With support from
the Penguins, Pittsburgh ICE has been able to reach those in the Pittsburgh area that want to play ice hockey.
Who are the Penguins players that get involved most – how do they do so and any fun anecdotes from their involvement?
Over the past 11 years we have had many players come out to skate with the kids and hold clinics. Players like Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque, Hall of Famer Joe Mullen, and others such as Phil Borque and Brooks Orpik have given of their time and hockey knowledge to our program.
When the Penguins were invited to the White House in 2009, Pittsburgh ICE (Hockey in the Hood) was also invited to the White House. The kids that were selected to go had a wonderful time on the ice with Sidney Crosby, Marc Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik and Jordan Staal.
Any new programs being considered/implemented soon?
As far as new programs, not so much. Our season runs from October through mid- March. Approximately 50 days of hockey instruction. (similar to an entire 82 game hockey season). We may look to expand the program in a few years provided there is an interest and the means available to expand such as more ice availability in the city of Pittsburgh.
What have been the most rewarding – and frustrating – elements of your program so far?
There have been so many rewarding things with this program too numerous to mention. The best reward for me is to see a child that has never had an opportunity to play the game of hockey learn and master basic skills and then keep pursuing the sport, that is rewarding for me.
Seeing kids skate at Civic Arena and the joy on their faces.. that is rewarding. On the frustrating side, If there was an indoor rink in the heart of the city, then a lot more kids would be playing hockey. It is frustrating to me to tell parents about the program and then hear that a lot of parents / kids cannot get to the rink that we skate at because of a lack of transportation.
This is something that has been an ongoing issue but we work around that with carpools and parents that volunteer to give a kid a ride who may need a lift to practice from time to time.
How has the success for the Penguins made things easier – and harder – for you and your programs?
The success of the Penguins has made hockey a sport that a lot of kids want to try and play. That is easy. The hard part is reaching out to those kids that do not have the means necessary to play the game. That is where Pittsburgh ICE comes in. Someone told me that this program was only going to last 6 months. That was 11 years ago…
Any last thoughts for readers?
Our website is www.pghice.com or www.pghice.net or www.pghice.org. We are affiliated with the National Hockey League / Hockey is For Everyone. I would love to reach out to more kids in the city to give them a chance to learn such a great sport.
The hockey community in the city of Pittsburgh over the past 11 years have been Stellar in their support of this program. I cannot thank the hockey community of Pittsburgh enough for all they have done from equipment drives to donations, etc.