Ducks’ Top Flight Street Hockey reaches new heights
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In Huntington Beach, Friday nights have become more than just the start of the weekend for families with a child with special needs; they’ve become hockey nights.
The Top Flight Street Hockey League – a program designed for individuals with special needs and open to participants of all skill levels and abilities – has called The Rinks-Huntington Beach Inline home since the fall of 2013.
Now beginning its 10th season, which gets underway on Jan. 22, the Top Flight League has served over 100 participants and has steadily added 10-15 new players each session.
The Anaheim Ducks’ idea to start a league that served players with special needs emerged through suggestions made by families in the community. After hosting a free three-week learn-to-play clinic to test how the program would be received, Friday nights have never been the same at The Rinks-Huntington Beach Inline.
“The interest was there right out of the gate,” said Jesse Chatfield, marketing manager for The Rinks.
The program operates during the fall, winter and spring. During the summer, skills clinics are offered to keep the players connected to the game.
During the eight-week season, participants are placed on teams based on their skill level to help create parity and a positive and encouraging environment. The instructors and aides work with the players at the weekly practices and games teaching basic hockey skills, such as passing, shooting and stickhandling.
This past fall season, the Top Flight League saw over 50 participants register, allowing the program to expand onto two of The Rinks-Huntington Beach Inline’s three rinks with four full teams.
Two short years ago, the program began with only 18 participants. Chatfield said the recent growth witnessed in the Top Flight League could possibly lead to its expansion into the The Rinks-Irvine Inline and -Corona Inline facilities as early as the end of this year.
The Top Flight Street Hockey League has grown in part thanks to word of mouth from families already involved in the program.
“The feedback has been awesome; it’s been nothing but positive,” said Chatfield. “What we hear is that not only do you see the development of the players on the rink, but this program has really helped with social skills as well.
“The parents are now telling us that every Friday night the kids know hockey is coming, and they’re excited.”
Apart from Top Flight’s growing popularity, the development of current players is what’s caught the attention of some of the Top Flight staff.
“To see players who’ve come through multiple seasons of the program and then join other inline and ice programs at The Rinks, such as Learn to Skate or Learn to Play, is really encouraging,” said Craig Appleby, The Rinks’ marketing associate. “They really gravitate towards the sport of hockey and we love having the opportunity to see them succeed and get better every week.”
Chatfield says that while the development of the players is great to be a part of, seeing the joy the kids get out of playing the game is most exciting.
“It’s great to see the skill development, but most of all it’s seeing a ton of smiles on the players’ faces, the interaction they have passing back and forth and the high-fives after goals,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about with Top Flight – just having fun. No matter what team wins, every kid leaves with a smile on their face.”
The upcoming winter season begins with a free trial/evaluation night on Jan. 15, with the 10th eight-week season kicking off on Jan. 22.
For more information or to register for the Top Flight Street Hockey League, visit AnaheimDucks.com/TopFlight.