Wildcat hockey players have been lacing up their skates for a purpose beyond practice or competition. They take turns each week doing community service with Marquette Junior Hockey’s “Learn to Skate” program at Lakeview Arena. With youngsters ages 2-7 circling—and sometimes wobbling or falling—around them, the Wildcats say it’s a pleasant reminder of their early days on the ice under the guidance of adult mentors. And judging by their playful interactions with the kids, they fully embrace the importance of providing future players with a fun, enthusiastic introduction to the sport.
Brendan Jacques and Jesse Junttila turned out for Monday’s “Learn to Skate” event. Both are freshmen and former Calumet High School teammates. As an NMU forward, Jacques typically fires shots on goal, but on this particular night, he led a drill from the opposing vantage point as a goaltender perched in front of the net. Kids tentatively approached him, trying to stay balanced on their skates while handling a disc or ball with their sticks in the hope of getting it past him. Jacques made some saves, but adeptly feigned other attempts and allowed kids to score.
“I like to come here because the kids are always smiling and so welcoming,” said Jacques, who was born into a hockey family and learned to skate when he was 18 months old. “It’s great to take my thoughts off school and help kids learn a sport I love without making it too serious or hard. Hopefully by helping out and building a relationship with the parents, we’re also building awareness and a fan base for our team. It’s good to create that hockey community.”
Junttila, an NMU defenseman, was at a nearby station. He and the young skaters were maneuvering on a small patch of ice squared off by foam barricades. After a period of time in close quarters, the group circled around the outside of the square with the Wildcat at the front of the pack offering encouragement.
“It’s good to get out with the young players,” said Junttila, who’s also from a hockey family and was in skates before he could walk. “I remember when I was a kid that age, it meant the world to be able to show your stuff to the older players who would come in and help. Now it’s nice to be the older player and see these kids with all their energy and enthusiasm, loving the game. Some are just starting out, so you want to keep things simple and really just make sure they have fun.”
Maggy Moore, School of Health and Human Performance professor, coaches while her son participates in the “Learn to Skate” program. She is impressed with the NMU hockey team’s involvement.
“They have done this every week consistently for five months; it’s not just a once or twice deal,” Moore said. “It is so cute to watch them with the kids and see how the kids respond to them. We often focus on scores and records, but this is great outreach and community service for the team.”
The program wraps up its season next week.