Hockey players bring a cool start to the school year
Burdened with heavy padding and guarded by a helmet, 9-year-old Nanichi Vargas was ready to compete Tuesday as she shuffled to the goalie net.
Nanichi was among the students at Avalon Elementary School in Fort Washington who faced off against some unlikely opponents players on the Washington Capitals professional hockey team in a for-fun game of hockey in the school's cafeteria.
"I've been playing hockey since the second grade in gym class. ... I'm pretty good," the fourth-grader said.
Capitals forward Tomas Fleischmann and left wing David Steckel, along with assistant coach Bob Woods, treated the school's fourth- through sixth-graders to a hockey camp, where students learned skills such as how to properly hold a hockey stick and how to cushion a pass. The Capitals also donated more than $500 worth of equipment to the school, including hockey sticks and pads so students can continue to practice in gym class.
Schools can sign up to schedule a visit from the Capitals on their website in August each year, and schools are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis, Capitals spokeswoman Kelly Murray said.
Players Matt Bradley and Semyon Varlamov will be visiting Kenmoor Elementary in Landover from 2 to 3 p.m. Sept. 13. Last year, Capitals players visited Adelphi and Greenbelt middle schools.
Avalon Principal Dianne G. Bruce, who has been at the school 13 years, said this was the first time professional athletes have visited.
"A lot of students don't really know that much about hockey, but when they see them play now, they will be able to identify with these players," she said, adding that students will have an opportunity to use the new equipment on ice at the Tucker Road Ice Rink in Fort Washington later this year.
Steckel, 28, a Wisconsin native, said he enjoys visiting areas where hockey isn't as prevalent and teaching students about the sport.
"It's a little different here," he said. "We're born with skates on, and kids here are just learning what the game is."
During a question-and-answer session, many of the students asked questions involving basics of the sport, such as, "Do you play on ice?" and "Is hockey a physical sport?"
"They're not going to go to a rink and find out what it's about," Steckel said, adding that it's important to expose students to as many sports as possible so they can find something they like.
For most students Tuesday, the highlight was the arrival of the Capitals' mascot, Slapshot the eagle, which caused an eruption of cheers.
"My favorite part was getting to play a game with Slapshot and Dave and Tomas," fifth-grader Carlos Vaquez, 9, said of the experience.
Teachers also took part in the mini hockey camp Tuesday, joining a student-versus-teacher hockey game, in which the teachers won by two points.
Fifth-grader Marshall Mendoza, 9, said playing against his teachers was his favorite part of the day.
"This is better than gym class," he said.