With the St. Louis Blues coming off their first Stanley Cup championship and dreaming of another, there’s no better time to learn skating and hockey skills.
The Rec-Plex partners with the St. Peters Spirit Hockey Club to teach kids as young as 4 years old what it takes to perhaps one day become a St. Louis Blue.
“The Rec-Plex does the Learn to Skate program so they can teach them how to go around the rink without falling down. Then they steer the kids to our Learn to Play Hockey program,” said Spirit club manager Dennis Coon.
After learning how to remain upright and move around the ice on their skates, players join teams in the following age divisions: 6-under, 8-under, 10-under, 12-under, 14-under, 16-under and 18-under.
The Spirit has 58 teams and, including those participating in Learn to Play, more than 700 players in its program. There are 430 players in the 10-u, 12-u, 14-u and 16-u divisions, which are governed by Missouri Hockey Association.
The Spirits’ Learn to Play program at the Rec-Plex, led by Diane Schaefering of Schaefering Power Play Hockey, lasts eight weeks and costs $165, not including equipment. Sessions are held once a week from October to December, January to March and April to May. Ryan Kane of Kane Train is the Spirits’ skills instructor.
“Kids will join our Learn to Play program in January and then next year they’ll go right into hockey teams,” Coon said.
The Blues also have a program designed for beginning players, called “Little Blues.” There are three six-week sessions each year — from September to November and again in the spring and summer. The program is held at Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights and led by Blues alumni.
“We do the Learn to Play, and the St. Louis Blues have really stepped up in the last five years to help that program. They do a real good job,” said Coon, noting that there’s no competition between the Spirit and the Blues since the respective programs generally run at different times of the year.
Coon said hockey is a sport that appeals to boys and girls.
“I think it’s the activity,” he said. “There’s a lot of action going on in the game. It’s easy to follow and chase the puck. Kids also like it that they fall and slide a little bit. The game is a fast game and it’s got a lot of action going. It draws people to the game, and it’s a game parents played, too.”
Teaching fundamentals, or skills, is a never-ending process. Skating is the foundation, but higher-level talent is developed with proper instruction and years and years of competitive game action.
“We’re keen on skills development,” Coon said. “Our players practice with their teams and get multiple skill sessions as well to improve their edge work, their stick-handling and all the tools they need to get better.”
The Spirits program has grown by 100 players in the last five years, and Coon predicts the trend will continue after the Blues prevailed over Boston in June to take the Stanley Cup. Plus, he said the population is shifting west.
“When you start playing hockey, you go to the place where your zip code is,” Coon said. “Our zip codes pick up Wentzville, and Wentzville has had tremendous growth. That’s led to our growth, too. Everybody has moved west. The eastern part of St. Charles County is older population, so we’ve lost players from that district, but that’s been more than made up as you head west down the (Interstate) 70 corridor toward Highway 64.
“When you have 100 (new) players, that’s roughly six to seven teams. All of a sudden, we require over 250 more hours of ice for that number of new players.”
The enthusiasm generated by the Blues’ championship might not be felt in earnest until next year after parents enroll their kids in Learn to Skate and Learn to Play.
“What most people don’t realize is registrations open in July for hockey,” Coon said. “But people new to hockey, they’re just now starting to think about it. There’s a little delay in there. Kids will start doing the Learn to Play programs, and then next year we’re definitely going to see an increase.”
The Rec-Plex has been home to the Spirit since it opened 25 years ago. The Spirit uses all three sheets of ice: the North rink at the Rec-Plex and two rinks at Rec-Plex South.
“We’re by far their biggest client,” said Coon, who recalls the old “Bubble Rink” that stood behind the Rec-Plex. “It was on a pad of ice that had an inflatable roof over it, a dome. Then when they got the Rec-Plex with the two new sheets, they took down the Bubble Rink.”
The Rec-Plex has received a visit from the NHL’s Stanley Cup twice in the last six years. The Cup was at the Rec-Plex in a surprise appearance thanks to the Blues this past October. The first visit came in 2013 when Spirit alum Brandon Bollig brought hockey’s Holy Grail to St. Peters to share with the Spirit hockey club and the community following the Chicago Blackhawks’ championship.
“That gets a lot of people excited,” Coon said.
Coon enjoys the partnership with Rec-Plex.
“It’s always clean. It’s a nice facility,” he said. “It’s a good place to watch games. I still think, even with the new rinks that have gone up here (Centene and Maryville), the Rec-Plex fits right in. It looks like it could have been built two years ago. … And the City of St. Peters is always working with us to try to make improvements, too, so that’s what we like.”LINKS:
• St. Peters Spirit Hockey Club
• Rec-Plex hockey skating lessons
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