As remaining members Brood 17 threw themselves against windshields, buildings and screaming bugophobes and the temperatures began to creep towards the triple-digit mark, an intrepid group of children and parents braved the heat and cicadas to get a taste of what it must be like to be Shea Weber (or Shea Weber's Dad.)
For some this would be the start of a brilliant career on blades. For others, it's a chance to get chilly and silly while wearing some fun armour. Regardless of the objective, a good time was had by all as the Nashville Predators Organization showed a group of young Middle Tennesseans that hockey really is the coolest sport on earth.
For children who have been trying on their gear and striking poses for Gramma, it all gets very real. Scattered about the causeways of Centennial Sportsplex, parents and participants wrestle on the pads and shorts and then take those tentative first steps on blades. As the mentors set up the padded dividers and cones, the children begin to gather at the entrances.
Anticipation runs high as the collection of tiny wanna-be grinders waits for the moment when they'll be given the all-clear to skate where the Big Boys will be skating in a couple of months in preparation for the upcoming season. When the signal is given, each kid seems to take that first step to the ice with the mindset that they are Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The moment they leave the dry floor for the rink, they are reminded of gravity and couple of the more stringent laws of the physical world. Unseen Newtonian enforcers send most of them in a pile of cuteness not far from the door. The coaches wait and watch nearby so they can take the opportunity to use those initial teachable moments. They swoop in and gently set kids upright to try and try again.
Once the shock of how slippery ice can be wears off, there is the realisation that ice is also delightfully cold. This is especially nice given how freakishly hot June has turned out to be. More than one child will, over the course of the month, take the opportunity to just lie down and luxuriate in a sense of cool that would make Miles Davis a little jealous.
Most of the participants have gome from a state of bliss at simply staying vertical to really getting a sense of movement on the ice. Given the age range (four to seven years), a wide array of proficiency is to be expected. However, there are no foregone conclusions in that respect. Age, as they say, is just a number, and some tinies slip around their older classmates with the ease of a Cooper Mini moving around green and yellow rolling behemoths bearing the John Deere trademark.
It is at this point that the G.O.A.L. experience gets a little more individualised. Some children are already getting the idea that they like this. A lot. It feels like home and they wouldn't be anywhere else. They focus on the lessons of skating and stick-handling and the elegant philosophy of playing the game. For others, this a lark. They see it as a chance to play in a new environment. Interludes of teaching are sandwiched between visiting at the padded barriers and hitching a ride on the blade of a passing coach.
Either way, an important need is being met. These kids are moving and they're having a blast while they're doing it.
Can't get enough of the thrills, the spills and all that cuteness on ice? There are two more weeks of pictures coming up. In the meantime, check out the back story at Confessions of a Cheese Grits Fiend.
Note to those of you who visited the site earlier and saw black boxes where the pictures should have been: I ended up having to use YouTube. It does grey out and fuzz up the pics somewhat. I apologise for that and share your frustration.