Only The Young

A big part of the presentation put together by the St. Louis Sports Commission when it submitted in a bid to the NCAA to host this year’s Frozen Four was its plan to involve youth hockey in the event.

Though tickets for the games are at a premium, Friday’s events, including the Pontiac Skills Challenge, made it possible for young hockey enthusiasts in St. Louis to become part of the event.

“As you know, the Frozen Four is always sold out, so it’s hard for kids to get access to events,” said Chris Roseman, vice president of events management for the St. Louis Sports Commission. “So we worked hard with the Scottrade Center and the St. Louis Blues to make sure that there was a place for the kids to get involved.”

In the months leading up to Friday’s event, the Blues conducted preliminary skills competitions with youth hockey organizations around the St. Louis area to select participants for events this week.

On Monday and Wednesday night, more than 3,000 hockey youth from the area competed in the finals of their own skills challenge at the Scottrade Center, including the same events as the collegians: fastest skater, hardest shot, shot accuracy, and puckhandling and goaltending.

Winning teams were guests at Friday night’s Frozen Four events and were saluted at St. Louis’ Union Station. Kids from those teams, along with fans, marched up Market Street to the arena.

“There were probably 1,000 kids who marched up the street, along with some fans, of course. So it was a great scene,” Roseman said.

Chris Griffin, who coaches the Meramec Sharks mites team in St. Louis, was excited about the exposure his seven- and eight-year-old players were getting to the college game.

“I think it’s a great experience,” Griffin said. “I know the kids all love it. They had a great time marching down here. And I think it’s great to raise awareness about what NCAA Division I hockey is.”

While there is no college hockey in the state of Missouri, Michigan State’s Jeff Dunne and Maine’s Ben Bishop — both Frozen Four participants — are products of St. Louis-area youth hockey. And there are about twice as many Division I players from the “Show Me” state as from Maine.

Roseman hopes the exposure will increase the excitement about college hockey in the St. Louis area and perhaps create future fans.

“Just look at the crowd out there. The median age has got to be a lot lower than the Frozen Four crowd,” Roseman said.

Griffin thinks that St. Louis youth hockey has gotten a boost from the event.

“It has helped build the youth hockey programs in the city,” he said.