Photo by Rena Laverty
With the holiday season upon us, the USA Hockey National Team Development Program has made it a mission to make sure that it’s giving back to the community.
Since the players reported back to Plymouth in late August, the team has done everything from cleaning up after the annual Fall Fest in downtown Plymouth, ringing the bells for the Salvation Army, volunteering at Learn to Skate events, conducting meet and greets and reading to kids at school.
Lisa Vollmers, who serves as the director of student-athlete services for the NTDP, understands the importance of having the players out in the community.
“Our goal is to create well-rounded individuals,” Vollmers said. “We have so many activities for our players, but one of the last life skills sessions that they have is about giving back.”
Vollmers said one of the host families – Krista McKinley and Eric Garcia, who are both retired Marines — help organize a lot of charitable activities to emphasize the importance of service to the players.
This message has always resonated with the players, coaches and staff. On Giving Tuesday this November, both teams rang bells for the Salvation Army. Under-17 forward Jacob Kvasnicka (Plymouth, Minn.) enjoyed spreading holiday cheer to others.
"It was a good experience,” he said. “We wore our Santa hats and sang carols. Everyone loves to hear Merry Christmas and making someone smile is a good thing to do … It really does make a difference if we can help make someone’s day.”
Helping the Salvation Army provided plenty of lessons for the players while giving them a perspective they’re not used to.
“We are in the cold for an hour-and-a-half but trying to help people who are in the cold all day, every day,” Vollmers said. “We spoke about it and their whole attitude changed. It makes them appreciate what the bell ringers are doing and just how important it is. It’s a great way to build relationships as well.”
Under-18 forward Shane Vansaghi (St. Louis, Mo.) has enjoyed every moment of these experiences. One of his favorite activities has been participating in the meet and greet and reading days at the local schools.
“It’s so much fun to go into the schools and interact with the kids,” he said. “You get to tell them about the NTDP, what we do and what our day is like. They are so curious and always ask lots of questions. Their faces always light up when we tell them that we go to school, work out for two hours in the gym and then, two hours on the ice. They are always so amazed, and many want to know what they need to do to be like us.”
Kvasnicka’s enjoyed volunteering in a Learn to Skate program, which teaches beginner hockey players the fundamentals of skating. He mentioned helping one boy who could barely skate eventually figure out how to maneuver the ice without any assistance.
“To help him learn how to skate and watch him let go of the wall, it made him happy at the end of the day and put a smile on my face, too,” Kvasnicka said. “It was great to see how far he had made it.”
The NTDP still has several activities planned for the remainder of the year, including an event in March where they partner with Northville Unified, a student organization at Northville High School that assigns mentors to severely impaired students at the high school, whether they need someone to eat lunch with or walking or wheeling them to class.
Vansaghi summed up how important assisting the community is a part of the NTDP experience.
“It’s just as important as showing up at the rink every day with the USA crest,” he said. “We represent when we are on the ice and then, we represent Team USA when we go out into the community and put smiles on other people’s faces. It’s doing the little things over time that makes this so special for us.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.