The Arizona Coyotes strive to expose hockey to all walks of life.
With the Los Howlitos program on Oct. 13 at AZ Ice Peoria, the organization shared skating techniques with children in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month with the help of former Yotes captain Shane Doan.
“Today is just getting kids on the ice, getting them to skate,” said Arizona Coyotes President and Chief Executive Officer Xavier A. Gutierrez.
“My understanding is that not a single one of these kids has actually been on the ice before.”
The participants came from Boys & Girls Clubs in Peoria and Glendale. Once the kids arrived and were fitted for skates and helmets, they hit the ice with walkers to help them balance.
One of the children, Malachi, said he only fell four times, which was better than he expected.
“The last one hurt, but I just had to get back up and try again,” he said.
That type of commitment received Doan’s approval.
“In the beginning, lots of people fall,” Doan said. “But, in the end, you see a lot of them start to figure it out and have a little fun with it. It’s incredible to see how they pick it up over the hour and just get the hang of it.”
Doan, who retired in 2017, works as the Coyotes’ chief hockey development officer. He frequently attends events like these to promote the game.
“I think our sport is the best sport in the world,” Doan said.
“I think everyone should have the right to try it, and everyone should get the chance to play it, because if you do, you’ll fall in love with it. For us to have the chance to reach into the Hispanic community a little bit and give them something that I think is so special is huge for us. Hopefully, some of them can fall in love with it the way I did.”
Even though most of the kids were too young to remember Doan’s career, they knew it was cool to learn from him.
One 12-year-old, Alaysia, rated this experience a 9.5 out of 10.
“I was taught by the captain of the Coyotes team. He taught me how to backward skate, and he taught us how to stop which was kind of cool,” she said.
At one point, Doan helped a little girl balance and proceeded to sail around the ice holding her under her arms. Naturally, other children saw this and begged to be next. This rare experience created new hockey fans.
Hispanic Marketing Coordinator Jonah Rodriguez started the Los Howlitos program to expose Latino Americans. As a Latino himself, he said he believes everyone should have the chance to play.
“If you talk to a lot of kids, they don’t know what hockey is,” Rodriguez said.
“They’ve never been on the ice. I pride myself on showing them hockey and letting them decide if they want to do it or not.”
He acknowledged that some participants may not have liked it, but they wouldn’t have known without this opportunity.
“We think it’s about the foundation you set, and then you build on that,” Gutierrez said. “So, for us, it’s about having these different people know that we are thinking of them, we care about them, we want to be a part of their lives; we want them to be fans.”
The Coyotes are hoping to transition this learn-to-skate program into a traditional learn-to-play program. Malachi might be one of those children who continues to play.
“My mom always said, what I try will come true one day,” he said.
“So, I feel if I keep trying, then soon I will probably be good, and I can probably make it on a hockey team.”