Jenelyn Russo

By Jenelyn Russo

Jenelyn Russo

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Learning to Fly

A few months ago, I wrote about my six-year old daughter’s interest in learning how to play ice hockey. We signed her up for the Learn to Play program supported by USA Hockey at KHS Ice Arena in Anaheim. I thought it was time for an update on how she’s doing…

Each time I get her dressed in her hockey equipment, we have a routine. She tells me which piece is next and then I help her put it on. Sometimes, I pretend to go out of order, just to see if she catches it, and she always does. The gloves are last, and I gently squeeze and count each of her fingers, making sure they are in the right spot. Then she grabs her stick and we walk to the rink door. She waits her turn and before she steps out onto the ice, I whisper the same words into her ear.

“Have fun.”

After completing and graduating the four-week Learn To Play program, my little six-year old decided she was having so much fun, that she wanted to keep playing. So the next step was to sign her up to play in the California Developmental Hockey League (CDHL).

CDHL is an in-house league and developmental program that introduces kids to the sport of hockey in a supportive, affordable environment. They play under USA Hockey rules and utilize USA Hockey developmental philosophies. But most of all, they make learning to play hockey fun for the kids, which is exactly what my daughter needs at this stage.

As a part of this transition, we now needed to purchase our own equipment. Using the loaned equipment from the Learn To Play program got us familiar with the pieces that are required, but I still felt in over my head. We headed down to Monkey Sports in Santa Ana and spent some time with the helpful staff there as we got my little hockey player outfitted for every piece of equipment she needed.

Her favorite parts are the skates and the jersey. Like getting a new pair of really fancy shoes, she loves to wear the skates and hates to take them off. The new jersey required her to pick a number for the back. She chose the number 6, because she’s six years old. And that made perfect sense to her. She’s very proud of that jersey. I can already tell that these hockey “firsts” will make their way to her keepsake box.

Transitioning from the Learn to Play program to the CDHL proved to be a bit of a challenge for her. While she had definitely improved her skating skills, she was not the fastest on the ice and spent most of the games watching as the kids who had been playing months longer zipped by her with amazing speed. It discouraged her. If you’re slow, you don’t get your stick on the puck very often. And if you don’t get your stick on the puck very often, you don’t score many goals. And when you’re six, scoring goals is a big deal. A couple of weeks into the league play, she sat in the car crying one Friday afternoon.

“I don’t want to go tomorrow, Mommy,” she told me. “I can’t skate as fast as the other kids.”

I’m sure all parents of kids who play sports have encountered this in their child at some point. But being a rookie at this myself, it broke my heart to see her tears. I talked with her coach, fellow Ducks fan Marc Posner, and he assured me this is normal.

“Just encourage her,” he said. “We’re going to work on getting her a goal tomorrow. It’ll be my mission.”

So John and I gave her a pep talk.

“Never give up,” we told her. “The more you practice, the better skater you will become. We’re so proud of you.”

She didn’t give up. She pulled herself together, went out onto the ice and got herself a goal that day. And since then, she’s scored several goals. She’s improving her skating and learning new hockey skills each week.

And she loves it.

I continue to marvel at the opportunity in front of her, the chance to learn to play ice hockey in this sunny, beach community. And for as much as she loves to be out on the ice, she loves other things too. The days she’s not wearing her skates, she has on her pink tights and ballet slippers. She can’t wait for her annual spring recital where she will wear a lavender tutu and dance across the stage like a ballerina princess. It makes my heart happy that she loves to do both.

Each time I’m at the rink with her, I see the excitement in her face as she smiles at me from the other side of the glass. She’s the only little girl out there and she doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t know how long she will want to play hockey, but we will support her as long as she loves it.

And we couldn’t be more proud of her.

If you have a child who is interested in learning how to play hockey, check out these links for more information on how to sign up for a free Learn to Play program near you.




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