NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Olympic Games are great for highlighting sports that always get the attention they deserve.
That would include hockey, especially here in America where it is largely a regional pastime, especially “up north.”
While North Charleston is not exactly “up north,” the Carolina Ice Palace can make it feel that way.
About 300 Lowcountry kids are part of the youth hockey program at the Ice Palace. Part of what separates hockey from other sports – especially in small to mid-size markets – is that the professionals in town show up to help at practice.
On most nights, a handful of South Carolina Stingrays players can be found volunteering their knowledge and skills to help the next generation.
“They look up to these guys,” said Stingrays General Manager Rob Concannon, who is one of those volunteer coaches. “They go to Stingrays games, and talking to some of these kids, they play hockey because they went to a Stingrays game.”
With the Winter Olympics underway and hockey one of the highlights, it’s a chance for these kids— who play a sport that many of their friends don’t play— to have their moment of pride when it comes on tv.
“They start to get into it,” said 10-year-old Dean Trudeau. “Then they want to play it.”
“It puts the spotlight on the sport in general; in Charleston, we have a lot of people from a lot of different parts of the country and some of them may [not] know the Ice Palace is here; and has two sheets of ice, and figure skating, and girls’ hockey, and a youth program, and men’s leagues,” said Concannon. “I think it’s a good time for hockey, and hockey is in a good place.”
Hockey’s popularity in the Lowcountry is bolstered by the success of former Stingrays’ players and coaches who are not only getting their chances in the National Hockey League (NHL), but they are also excelling. Former player and head coach Jared Bednar’s Colorado Avalanche has the best record in the NHL, and he is set to coach the Western Conference in the All-Star game.
“A lot of the players and coaches who were here before and were in the AHL and NHL helped build that image and that product, and we see it out here today, and hopefully we can continue to grow the program,” said Concannon.