Attention pro hockey fanatics: The New York Rangers are coming to town—and they’re putting their best skate forward for Saratoga Springs youth hockey. saratoga living has learned that the New York City-based National Hockey League (NHL) team has officially partnered with Saratoga Youth Hockey, the Spa City’s own youth hockey nonprofit, to offer programming aimed at creating greater accessibility to the sport. The official announcement came this morning, Saturday, October 26, during Saratoga Youth Hockey’s Fall Classic game between the Bethlehem Eagles and the Saratoga Blue Knights at the ice rinks on Weibel Avenue in Saratoga.
“This [partnership], to us, is really to benefit the community, to give accessibility to young players to come into the organization and really develop the game of youth hockey,” says Melinda Guyett, executive board member and tournament and special event director at Saratoga Youth Hockey. The new partnership will entail the Rangers sending up members from their staff—trainers, coaches and even some players—once a week to offer on-ice, skill sessions (including learn-to-skate and learn-to-play classes) for Saratoga Youth Hockey members. There will be a total of three pro-taught hockey-training sessions over the fall and winter (the first session has already begun), each running for ten weeks with a one-hour lesson every week, and the price includes all gear. (Learn more about the program or sign your kids up here.) “[Our players will] learn the basic skills in these sessions, such as skating, stick handling, passing and shooting,” says Guyett.
The Rangers will also help develop Saratoga Youth Hockey’s two, brand-new all-girls hockey teams. The community-based organization has actually been teaching hockey to girls since its founding in 1976, but this season will mark the unveiling of Saratoga Youth Hockey’s first tournament-bound girls team, as well as its first development team for younger girl players, both sharing the name of the Saratoga Blue Knights. “It’s something we do to keep the girls interested in hockey, to give them a sense of [being on a] team, and to move the girl’s program forward as well,” says Frank Ovitt, President of Saratoga Youth Hockey. To that point, Amanda Kessel, Olympic gold medalist and professional hockey player for the New Jersey Metropolitan Riveters, will travel to Saratoga to support the new all-girls teams at a couple of hockey-themed events, including a girls-only hockey free skate and an all-girls “Try Hockey for Free Day” later this year. Girls signed up for this season’s hockey sessions will also receive some on-ice training from Kessel and various Rangers’ representatives.
One of those reps, who’ll be teaching both boys and girls the fundamentals of hockey, will be former Rangers left winger Brian Mullen, who spent 11 seasons playing in the NHL and who’s been teaching with the Rangers’ youth hockey program since its inception three years ago. “You could have the worst day of your life and you get out on the ice with these kids, and they just put a big smile on your face,” says Mullen, who will be making his first visit to Spa City for Saratoga Youth Hockey’s new partner program. “I hear it’s beautiful, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Mullen grew up in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, and for several years, his father was part of the seasonal ice crew at Madison Square Garden. Partly due to that connection, Mullen got to be a stick boy in his teens for the New York Rangers, whose home stadium is the Garden. “I got to see all the players up close and personal,” he says. “And I was lucky enough to make it to the NHL and play for them.” Now, long retired from his professional playing days, Mullen travels across the northeast teaching for the team. “I’ve been involved in hockey for 20 years now, and nothing like this program has come along,” says Mullen.
The partnership announcement between the Rangers and Saratoga Youth Hockey was timed to coincide with Saturday’s second annual Fall Classic hockey match, a popular way to promote Saratoga’s youth hockey community, programs and teams. “We started doing this [game] to benefit our scholarship fund, which of course also helps kids who want to play hockey,” says Guyett. The Fall Classic match also includes an all-day cookout, an on-site skate sharpening station, raffles (the price of admission includes a raffle ticket), a meet-and-greet with the Skidmore College men’s hockey team and an appearance by Rangers alumnus Mike Hartman, who played on the ’94 Stanley Cup-winning team. “It’s an awesome partnership with the Rangers, and we’re super excited about it,” says Ovitt.
Starting this week, members from the Rangers franchise will take over the remainder of Saratoga Youth Hockey’s first session and will completely run the second and third sessions, even handling the registration process. “The goal really is to expose all kids to hockey,” says Ovitt. “The game is great—the lessons and the people that you’re surrounded with are awesome, and it’s just a good experience for kids of all ages.”