ORLANDO, Fla. – Children in Florida don't often get to experience ice hockey, but the Tampa Bay Lightning is working on changing that.
Through their Bolts Community Hockey Program, children are learning skills in and out of the rink. The team ran hockey clinics at five different Orlando-area elementary schools, including Riverside Elementary.
"Our kids are loving this," said Principal Kimberly Hankerson. "Working with other people, and talking and sharing. And if we have a conflict, working it out. So we're learning all those skills out here."
Second-grade students learned the basic rules of the sport and ran through drills.
"It's the best thing ever," said second-grader Nadine Cange. "It is my favorite sport and I like basketball."
The Orlando Solar Bears are an affiliate of the Lightning. Solar Bears head coach Drake Berehowsky said seeing children get excited about hockey never gets old.
"I think hockey is the greatest sport in the world. I think it's so important to have grassroots things, and every team does in these kinds of communities, so I think it's a fantastic event for these kids," he said.
Each student leaves with their own ball and stick, as well as a ticket to the Lightning's preseason game against the Florida Panthers at the Amway Center Sept. 27. Former Lightning defenseman Jassen Cullimore is the director of the Community Hockey Program.
"They can go from here and they can go to RDV and try getting on the ice," he said. "When we are away from doing this, then we go and see kids in their driveway, you know on the street, and they're playing, that's the great thing."
During the week, approximately 1,500 children received hockey equipment. The Lightning also donated a full set of ball hockey equipment to each school. That includes two nets, two sets of goalie pads, 40 sticks, two shooter tutors and 40 jerseys.