For some St. Paul kids without the needed resources, learning how to skate and play hockey may seem a far-fetched idea. But no longer: St. Paul police officers and a local nonprofit are partnering this winter to teach kids the basics for free.

“Hockey is becoming a sport that is dying in the inner city,” said Sgt. Mike McGinn, St. Paul Police Activities League coordinator. While it’s hugely popular in Minnesota in the winter months, it can be expensive.

The six-week program, which started Monday and continues until Feb. 22, is designed for novice youth skaters who typically wouldn’t play hockey or be able to afford to do it, McGinn said.

The officers are working with the Herb Brooks Foundation’s Rink Rat program and local hockey players. The foundation is donating the necessary equipment.

“It’s highly important that kids are introduced to the skill and have the opportunity to learn it because there is a rink almost at every corner,” said Amy Alt, Herb Brooks Foundation program director.

“And it’s a huge part of our culture. It’s such a part of life here in Minnesota.”

The program takes place Mondays at two ice rinks, the Gustafson Phalen Arena, 1320 Walsh St., and the Harding Arena, 1496 E. 6th St. About 10 officers are volunteering their time, with help from local hockey players.

On Monday, parents said they were impressed with their kids and how much they had learned in just one hour.

“There was one mom in tears because she didn’t think her son would be able to skate,” McGinn said.

On the first day, the students, ages 8 to 12, learned how to fall down on carpet before venturing out onto the ice.

“The kids got a kick out of it. It’s one of those things that sound silly,” McGinn said. “But also, in general, we need to learn how to fail to become successful.”

After some fun drills on balancing and basic skating skills, the kids were broken up into different groups based on their skill level. Officers were able to offer individual coaching to every child, McGinn said.

“There was a lot of confidence and personal pride coming off the ice,” McGinn said of the players.

McGinn said the program also is an important chance for the kids to see police officers in a nontraditional way, and for the officers to interact with community members.

This is the second year that the St. Paul police activities league has been involved with a hockey program. Last year it partnered with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers squad for a four-week outdoor clinic.

The Herb Brooks Foundation, named after the coach who guided the U.S. Olympic hockey team to its “Miracle on Ice” triumph in 1980, has been teaching kids how to skate and play hockey since 2001.

Both Alt and McGinn said they were excited to see how much fun the kids were having on the first day.

Alt said that after the hourlong instruction, a young boy came up to tell her why he joined.

“ ‘I think everyone in Minnesota should know how to play hockey, so I decided to learn,’ ” Alt said the boy told her. “He said it so matter-of-factly. He wrapped it up in a nutshell.”


Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora