On December 21st, 2013, Martha’s Vineyard Youth Hockey and the Martha’s Vineyard Arena will encourage kids, ages 4 to 9, to come to the rink and try youth hockey as part of the NHL’s Come Play Hockey. We have a limited amount of equipment available for use.

Few things are better than hitting the ice with some of your best buddies. It is one of the reasons many of us get into hockey in the first place. And while you have new teammates and new friendships forming with your squad this season, most still have “off-ice” friends, too.

But why not introduce them to our great game? USA Hockey’s Try Hockey For Free Day offers just that opportunity.

“More often than not, kids that have played hockey before love bringing a friend to the rink on our Try Hockey For Free Days,” said Tammy Christian, growth and marketing director for the Rockford Rams (Mich.) Hockey Association. “Then they go out and just have a lot of fun on the ice together, laughing and learning to skate with plenty of falling down and getting back up. When they are having fun on the ice, that’s when we see success. It’s just great.”

The Rams have been hosting Try Hockey For Free Days since 2010 because, “It simply works.” An increase of roughly 20 kids from the first year to the second year has in turn helped the Rams’ association grow. This is what USA Hockey strives to achieve with each event.

“Our youth hockey families have had a big impact on growing the game,” said Pat Kelleher, assistant executive director of development at USA Hockey. “When we survey our Try Hockey parents, they overwhelmingly tell us that they came to the rink based on their friends’ positive experiences in youth hockey.”

Christian and the Rams focus on the positive experience that comes with Try Hockey For Free Days. It’s not just the kid’s experience that is important, but a parent’s experience, too. It’s often a memorable moment for parents to lend a hand on their child’s first big skate.

“It’s a lot of handholding that day,” said Christian, a mother of three hockey playing boys (and a hockey playing husband) of her own. “Not just kids, but parents, too. It can all be very confusing at first and a lot of them don’t have a clue how to put equipment on or what to expect of little Johnny’s first time. I remind parents that are volunteering to be compassionate and put themselves back in that place when it was their little person’s first time. Just like the kids, if the parents don’t have fun, they won’t be bringing their child back.”

A day of fun with friends, new and old, is what Try Hockey For Free is all about. Learning and growing, one skate and one smile at a time.