From the sidelines, Sara’s grandfather is cheering on her development. John Woll, a pharmacist from Pine City, said both his sons — Justin and Jon, Sara’s father — played hockey at an early age. He said Justin would leave Pine City at 9 p.m., get to South St. Paul by 10:30 for practice, get back home at 1:30 a.m. and “went to school the next day with shirts and ties.
“Do I support it? Yes, I do,” he said of Sara’s hockey passion. Yet John Woll said he has also talked with Sara’s parents about “how will you support her when one day she comes home and says, ‘I’m tired [and] I don’t want to go to practice?’ ” He quickly added of Sara: “I don’t see that happening.”
Molly’s mother, Ann Walsh, meanwhile said she was surprised to learn recently that Molly now plans to move to Edina — mostly for other reasons, but also partly for hockey.
“That’s the icing on the cake,” Molly said of youth hockey in Edina. On some evenings in the later summer and early fall, during Sara’s workouts at 1st Athlete, the Edina girls’ high school hockey team trained only a few feet away.
On a warm Friday in mid-September, Molly fought rush-hour traffic to drive Sara to Blaine for practice. In the otherwise cold and empty arena, coach Jason Hemp watched the girls skate.
“[Sara’s] a very young player — she may have been our youngest player” last spring, he said.
Hemp said this level of hockey is relatively cheap, $350 for the whole season. “All my other girls, after this level, they all pay $1,560,” he said.
At one point over the past month, Jon tried to juggle Sara’s hockey schedule to fit in the normal activities of a 7-year-old — in this case, a sleepover with her cousin.
“Poor kid — she wants to do this play date,” said Jon, who promised to make it happen. “We feel her stress for her,” he said, smiling.
At a cost
As Jon and Molly watch Sara at her 1st Athlete training sessions, they also eyed one other way to maybe give their daughter an edge: Envision Sports. The company, which shares office space with 1st Athlete, offers private sessions to help increase the eye-hand coordination and peripheral vision of children — for academics and sports.
A sign inside Envision Sports talked of “convergence,” where the eyes turn inward and work together and which can be good for “catching a puck, catching a pass, hitting a ball [and] reading.” Josh Tucker led 10-year-old Anna Podein through her lesson in early October, which appeared as part eye exam, part computer video game.
“For athletes, if your mind drifts for one second, you turn the ball over” in a game, Tucker said.
Sherry Podein, Anna’s mother, waited for her daughter’s session to end. She said her husband, Shjon, who played 10 years in the NHL, is the one pushing the trips to Envision Sports. The cost is $2,800 for 40 lessons.
“It’s expensive,” Sherry said.
“I don’t know how much is too much,” she said of the seemingly endless hockey clinics, practices and games for Anna and her brother, Junior, age 7. “[They] like playing to win.”
Molly eyed the Podein family from a distance and seemed envious. Is she tempted to sign Sara up at Envision Sports? Well, she said with a grin, they probably would have to sell the car.